Patterned red carpet under my bare feet and old pop music playing faintly in the background. The soda machine beside me buzzed.
The home I know is familiar skin.
I bashed the blue console in front of me.
“Hello?” I said. “Come on…”
But my home is always strange to me.
A round yellow face appeared, bright, simple and smiling.
“Hello, my name is Happy,” a man’s voice emanated from the static image. “How can I help y-”
“No,” I waved my arms, staring into the black eye above the screen. “Somebody stole my cat. I need you to send someone down here. To, you know, look.”
The screen didn’t reply at first.
“…I know we’re not supposed to have animals.”
The buzz of the electric visage stared silently at me.
I glanced back the route I’d come through the halls. Lights had sporadically gone out down the ghostly way, everyone fast asleep. The other direction the sign for the game room glowed.
“Did you see where it went, Frode?” the Smiler asked.
“What? No. I wouldn’t be talking to you, would I?”
My phone vibrated in my pajama pant pocket.
>’Dagr’_03:29:14 | “We could use you on Marshal. Bad team comp.”
I closed the text.
“You should go play with your friends, Frode,” the screen said.
The cheery face on the screen winked out. Suddenly I was alone in the hall. The police console was black.
What? Excuse me?
“Hey! What, you two-faced fuck?” I smacked the screen. “Cat!?”
I threw up my arms.
I could keep checking the building, I knew that’s what I’d do. But anything missing in this dingy cramped hive was something you never saw again.
I’d taken careful notice of the locks on the old man’s door. One simple turnkey bolt, no latch.
He was lucky he wasn’t spare parts at that rate.
Coming around into the game-room as I walked, it wasn’t the first time I’d set my sights on this forgotten room. One wall was stripped bare, the ceiling panels fallen down around it. Dead pinball machines lingered and at the center of the room, the only standing attraction had someone at it.
A guy laid out on the pool table, looking up absently. Eyes wide but nobody home. I leaned over and looked in to see the faintest blue trace in the black of the iris. He was someplace high.
I turned over his coat fabric and reached into his pocket.
Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
I’d take what I deserved if I were him.
No cash but a condom and pack of Grit. A grimy kind of coke. Not my stuff but a good trade. The eye drops were empty.
There it was, in his other pocket. Smokes.
A momentary vision of putting one out on his skin flashed through my mind.
He probably wouldn’t feel a damn thing.
I put his wallet back.
“Cat!?” I yelled.
He didn’t flinch.
I grinned, patted him on the face and left him be, stepping back into the hall.
>’Dagr’_03:31:01 | “Where r u?”
I didn’t need this.
“Avoiding you,” I loudly said.
“…What?” The junkie moaned behind me.
I texted back.
>’WGuy’_03:31:21 | “I am looking 4 a cat.”
>’Dagr’_03:31:26 | “?”
>’WGuy’_03:31:49 | “Exactly.”
He couldn’t have just misplaced the thing, right?
What kind of person steals a cat?
Suddenly, it was darker.
Checking up from my phone, I was faced with a pitch black hallway to my left. The lights had gone completely out further down the passage.
I never wandered the building at this hour, it occurred to me. I wandered the streets. Got out as much as I could. Everyone did. There was nothing to do in the hives but sleep. Existence in a crypt was none at all.
Staring into the black, that started to bother me.
Just a little.
Had that hallway been that dark when I’d gone into the game room? I never noticed how quiet these halls were until that quiet stirred.
My phone slid back into my pocket and I listened, frozen.
What kind of person steals an old man’s only friend?
The next light in the row crackled and brought the black closer. There was a short rush of air I thought, and my eyes widened. I was willing them to adjust to the dark. I was straining to listen to the imminent shadow.
I didn’t know what I thought, but I was stepping back.
When I had moved far enough behind, the side passage to the game room was out of my sight. Just then, its lights went out with the next link in the hall. There was a breeze, a quick succession of thuds. Silence.
I wasn’t breathing.
An ocean in my head. A lurch in my sense of balance.
This was here all along.
It had been watching.
A scream sounded.
My feet tripped as I whipped around. I hit the carpet and scrambled back up, breaking into a run. The darkness was shifting behind me. I moved as fast as I could.
I bolted right past my room, I realized. I had missed it, it was so like the others.
I kept running. The next corner brought me to the stairwell, which I threw open and shut behind me. Every light inside was out.
The pass outside began to flicker.
Moving fast, I pulled out my phone. It’s display turned on right as the hall went. It shined through the pane of the stairway entrance door.
This had to be scalpers. It had to be insomnia and paranoia.
The hinges of the stairway door creaked.
I wanted a weapon. To see something through the pane. Anything.
“Stop!” I screamed.
No breathing. Only my heartbeat.
Every second drug on.
Nothing was familiar.
But I’ve been here before.
The world was like a dream, the memories more real than the dark they populated, dark which sealed me in the steel case of my head.
I couldn’t go through that again.
My phone display turned off automatically.
For a moment I heard a low rumble.
“…K-kitty?” I asked.
Then, every light came crashing back down around me, in the passage and stairway. Everything became visible again.
Everything was like nothing had happened. All at once.
I heard a door slam someplace at the limit of perception.
Nothing at all had happened.
Only me, exhausted, dropping onto my ass down in the stairwell, slumping almost to the floor as my muscles gave out.
“Holy shit… holy shit you moron.”
I hadn’t even recognized my door.
“This isn’t home,” I said it out loud. It was like a compulsion. My arm was rattling. My fake lung was screaming with every intake. I could be dying. My fake heart thudded offbeat. Admit it.
Nothing makes sense. It hadn’t for a long time now.
Probably never did, buddy.
The lights all on, nothing had changed, but only in sight.
I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, I realized.
I had to find that cat.
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