Bert heard what sounded like a train roaringthrough the middle of his head. Thetrain rumbled on before morphing into the recognizable but dreaded sound of hisalarm clock. With one hand, he slapped the bedside table,looking for the snooze button, to bring silence and peace to the world onceagain. He found the clock and hisefforts turned from clumsy to precise as he felt along the top, careful to hitthe snooze button and not the off button. Success, he found the long snooze bar and pressed it gently. Peace descended on the room and flowedthrough Bert’s mind like a warm breeze. The bed was never more comfortable and the sleep never more restful thanduring the five minutes between alarms.
Had hehit the snooze four times already. This was a new record and records were madeto be broken. He snuggled into a blanketthat was just right, on a bed that perfectly conformed to a body that neededfive more minutes in heaven.
Again, the alarm hammered through the bliss, blaringand annoying. He performed the clumsy todelicate process again, but this time, he opted to turn off the alarm insteadof momentarily silencing it. He snuggleddeeper into the bed. He knew he had toget up. Turning off the alarm had raised the stakes. There was no safety netnow. Drift back to sleep and it’s over.“Don’t bother coming into work late again!” Bert’s boss yelled into his face the last timehe was late. I won’t be late, he thought, I’llget up in just a minute or two. That’sall he needed, just a couple more minutes.
He rested under a heavy blanket in the middleof his bed. The blanket always feltgreat but at this moment, it kept himsafe from the cold and miserable day ahead of him. He felt the weight pressagainst his skin and push him deeper into the bed. The feeling went from comfort to concern asthe sense of weight and the depth of the bed both seemed to entrap him and madeit hard to breathe. His chest struggled to expand and his lungs failed toinflate. The concern blossomed into panic as the blanket secured him to thebed. The mattress under him began to separate in the middle. The blanket tightened, driving him further and furtherinto the bed that was now consuming him. He wanted to struggle but his armswere pinned to his sides and against the inside of the bed. The mattress movedrhythmically as if swallowing him inch by inch. The pressure on his arms andlegs joined the pressure on his chest in an all-outassault on his life.
What the fuck was happening.
Had to be a dream. Had to be a between-snoozenightmare of some kind. This fantasy evaporated quickly as panic too intense tobe a dream stormed his mind. No air, noair, I can’t breath, oh my god, I can’tfucking breathe. His mind yelled toitself. Slack formed in the blanket as the mattress took over the process,slowly and firmly enveloping him. Itthreatened to crush him like a car at a junkyard. He was fading, surrounded by darkness andpain; he had to be dead. The pressuresurrounding him debunked, yet another myth his mind conjured for comfort. Hedropped. He was out of the mattress and in the dark. Under the mattress? Under the bed? The surface under him felt hard. He heard asubtle whooshing sound and sensed movement above him. He pressed upward just astwo panels slid closed. He pounded his hands against the invisible container. He barely fit in this thing that heldhim. He couldn’t move much at all.
From the hall,he heard voices. He froze. The voicesgrew closer before splitting off to his right and left.
“This never gets old,” stated the person onthe right.
“You don’t think, a little bit maybe,” camethe reply from the left.
“Hell no, this whole thing’s been a crazytrip. Think about where we came from andlook at us now. This is way better thanI ever could have imagined when I was in that field and the light sucked meup.”
“Yeah but, my implant is starting to bother meagain. The wound’s been leaking and there’s this humming sound coming from myleft jaw. It’s just weird,” said the voice on the left.
“Have it like looked at,” said the man on theright.
“They take pretty good care of us consideringwhat they do to the folks we send them.”
“True, true, can’t argue with that.”
Without warning, the mattress split in two andlight flooded through the glass box and into Bert’s eyes. He saw a blur on either side of him. His vision cleared and he saw what appearedto be two plumbers standing over what remained of his bed.
“This right here is what never gets old. Look at his face,” said the plumber on theright. He moved over the box and poundedon it with a heavy duty flashlight.
“Look at him, he’s freaked the fuck out.” The plumber on the left stood over Bert witha bored look on his face. “Just another clueless yuppie, too dumb and lazy torealize how good he has it, shit, I mean how good he had it.”
The plumber on the right shook the flashlightat his partner. “That’s right, ‘had’ beingthe keyword there. What are we doing with ol Mr PeePants here?”
The words hit Bert’s ears right as he feltthat his underwear was wet.
“Pet or bait?” askedthe man on the right.
“Oh,that’s a damn good question.” Theplumber on the left fumbled what appearedto be a tablet out of a bag on the floor. “Let’s see here, um, fella, right here, um… How many times did he hitthe button?”
“He hit the button four times. My guess isbait because what they fish for ain’t in to fast movers.”
“Okay, right here, bait, yeah you’re right,he’s going to Stasia. We took two therelast month, didn’t we? They really gothrough them.”
“We need to get moving.” The man on the leftran his finger down the pad. “We’ve got, one, two, three, oh wait, a fourthjust popped up. We’ve got a lot to doand I don’t want to work through lunch again today.” He put the pad back in the bag and extractedtwo glass cylinders. The man on theright produced two of his own and moved to the lower corner of the glass box. He held a cylinder over the bottom corner andagain at the top. The cylinders hoveredfor an instance before melding with the box. Bert pushed with everything he had against the top, sides, and bottom of the box. He braced his legs against the bottom andextended his arms until his body shook, but his will gave out and the boxdidn’t move an inch. The men ignoredhim.
The man with the tablet moved his fingerfrantically over the screen and mumbled to himself, “Need to get thecoordinates right or he’ll split up into a trillion pieces and be a mess toreassemble.” The men both laughed atthis.
The plumber on the right said, “Remember thatugly mess we sent to Tittium? We sent a blonde 45-year-old lady and what they got reassembled into a quiveringball of meat jello.”
The man on the left was bent over snortinglike a demented pig. “Oh, did we catchhell for that mess.”
He stood and composed himself as he indicatedhis work with the tablet as complete with hard, exaggerated finger pokes to thescreen. “Boom.” The cylinders at each corner began to glowand hum. A thin line of light emergedfrom each and moved slowly towards the center of the space above the box. Where they converged produced a smallpinpoint of light. The point began togrow until it was the size of a glowing golf ball with a dark pit in thecenter. The ball grew slowly and the pitin the center grew deeper until he could notice shapes and glints of lightwithin. As it grew bigger, it becameless like a ball and more and more like a frame of light around a portal ofdarkness. The shapes and lights on theother side began to sharpen and brighten. The clarity of the image before him did nothing to help him understand whathe was seeing. The shapes lackedunderstandable form and the lights seemed to emanate from sources he couldn’tidentify. The portal surrounded the boxand descended over him. He journeyedfrom his room to something so strange he failed to comprehend the scene beforehim. The light and form swirled togetherand reminded him of an amoeba he once observed under a microscope in theseventh grade. The portal dissolved thebox as it enveloped him, eventually terminating under him.
He was free, the box was gone. He could run now or he could call for help,but he knew those ideas were dead ends. The form before him moved in erratic waves and receded until it’s lightwas so faint that he could no longer distinguish what was or wasn’t there. He sat in the dark. The lack of light was accompanied by completesilence. He felt movement against hisskin like undulations after a wave breaks in the ocean. He felt a calming sensation that was pleasantand warm. The rhythmic movements relaxedhim and he allowed the sensation to move over him. It pulsed as it covered him completely. He was within it and his skin burned likesalt rubbed on a sunburn. He drifted,nuzzling deeper into the warm embrace. A bright light erupted all around him, flashinglike lightning. The burning ceased and the sense of calm gaveway to panic as he realized he was within the amoeba nightmares are madeof. The light blinded and disorientedhim. A large spear tore through thecreature. It shook violently, attemptingto free itself as it thrashed about. Bert was slung from its grasp andskidded to a halt on a dark rocky surface that tore his pajama bottoms and theskin on his hands. Another spear flewfrom beyond the darkness and pinned the creature to the ground. The pulses of light grew dimmer as the beaststruggled less and seemed to die more. He moved closer and noticed the spears had large barbs on them and werein fact harpoons. Large cables attachedto the harpoons drew the creature away, and as the light faded, so did hisability to see again. He stood onceagain in the dark silence. He remainedmotionless, but he did not know for how long. Had it been a minute or an hour since the whole ordeal had started? He had no idea and had nothing to anchor hismind to.
He felt a warm caress on his back. It was a soft, gentle experience that felthorribly wrong, but was too pleasant to resist. He fell back into the embrace and allowed himself to be surrounded bythe warm, comfort that was about to consume him.