A Better Place

A short ghost story

Peter sat at his kitchen table.  He felt the presence before he saw it.  The room got a little colder and the lights a little dimmer.  Oh, this is some typicalhaunted house shit. He’d been in the new, old house for over a month and strange sensations and occurrences had become the norm, but this was something different.  While the temperature and dim lights were passive indicators of the ghost’s presence, the apparition pulling up a chair across from Peter was as direct an introduction as one could get.

They stared at one another for an unknown length of time. Peter felt a lump in his throat and fear in his skin.  What sat across him almost wasn’t there.  He could barely make out the furniture behind it, but the clarity ebbed and flowed as if the apparition was flowing within its form. 

It spoke first, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”   It threw its head back and produced a laugh that seemed to fade between the present and the hereafter.  “It’s okay.  I won’t bite, but I might mess with your toothbrush now and then.”   He laughed again, and the effect was more unnerving than the first time.  

“What are… I’m sorry, who are you?”  Peter asked.  

“Oh, you were right the first time; what I am is complicated, but I’m not much different from what you are.  The “who” part is a sticking point.  Seems I can’t let go of that and, well, here I am still.”

“I’m confused.” Peter said.  

“Oh, sure.  I can see that.  I think if I were in your shoes I’d be baffled too. I usually just mess around with people. Knock things over or maybe hide something.   This is the first time I’ve sat down for a chat. Didn’t know if it would work out or not. Apparently, it does.”  It looked a little surprised and a little confused.  “Anyway, I think things are changing around here and I wanted to introduce myself.” 

Peter nodded slowly. Still trying to buy time for a brain that couldn’t grasp the situation.  “Um, can I help you or something?  Wait, changes, what changes, what are you talking about?”  

“Well, I don’t know. I died upstairs, in what’s now your bedroom room in 1955.  Went right to sleep, never felt a thing.  When I came around, it was like I was in the realest dream a person could be in.”  The ghost motioned with hands that faded while in motion but solidified while still.  

“I’ve been here ever since,” he continued. “I always thought the end would be a bigger deal and for some, it’s like nothing you could ever experience while alive, but for me, well, it’s just day after day being invisible and all alone.  Well, alone until now.  It seems you and I can commune, which is interesting.”   

Peter had no less than a million questions running through his mind, but one popped to the front:  “What’s it like when the others go, like what do you mean it’s like nothing you could imagine while you’re alive?”   

The ghost solidified more than he had before and cleared his throat, which made an otherworldly sound again. “I’ve only seen it happen once, but anytime a person dies, you know it.”

“How?” asked Peter. Thoughts were running through his mind at an insane pace.  
“A few years ago, a family moved in. Nice people, but they were a little distracted.  They didn’t tend the boy closely, and he wanderedinto the road.  A car came up over the hill, going too fast, and hit him square.  The kid never felt a thing, but when he left this earth, he went in a flash.  I heard the car lock its brakes and saw the impact and what happened next was the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced. He blew up like a star, so bright and so hot. I don’t feel hot or cold anymore, but when that boy went, it felt like the air caught fire and it looked like it too. It was like snow, that instead of falling had been blown out of the sunand was going off in all directions.  The parents were devastated and moved within a month, but if they could have seen how their boy went out, I think they would have felt differently. But that’s not how this works, is it?  The amazing thing was that the lights never faded but instead seem to work themselves into the fabric of reality.  I can’t come close to explaining it, but that’s what I think it was.  He went back to what he was, what we all werebefore we were born.”  

Peter would have been skeptical if this hippy slant on death wasn’t being told by someone who wasn’t already dead.  

“Yeah, that’s right, he went back into place within the fabric of life. The little crystals of light just unwound and worked themselves back into everything.   Holy shit, I’ve never said this out loud to anyone, for obvious reasons, and I know I couldn’t sound crazier.”  He shook his head and an ethereal trail accompanied the motion.  

Peter was silent.  He wasn’t sure if the ghost or his story had locked his mind up more. “Well, why didn’t you turn into a bright star type of thing?” he asked. 

“Um, well, best I could tell, I loved me too much to dissipate like that.  I always thought of myself more than anyone else and I guess that carried over. I was always apart from everything and never a part of anything.  I was all wrapped up with myself when I was alive and myself is all that’s left.”  

A lump formed in Peter’s throat.  He watched, but the ghost seemed quiet and distant.  It seemed to contemplate things.  Peter felt like he needed to say something but just didn’t know what to say.  He searched his mind looking for a proper word of encouragement or phrase that may provide comfort to this being before him.  He came up empty; in fact,he wanted to leave now. This ghost and its existential crisis weren’t Peter’s problems.   This was all too deep for him.  He wanted this strangest of strange conversations with a ghost or a hallucination or whatever to end and be behind him.  

He noticed a flash in his peripheral vision.  All the windows in the house lit up.  Small flakes of light drifted through the walls. Numerous passed in front of Peter‘s face and even more surrounded his body.  The house filled with a brilliant light show – small crystalized suns bounded everywhere.  He noticed the unwinding the ghost had mentioned.  He watched as the crystals untangled and then work themselves into the air.  They looked like actors exiting a stage, but instead of disappearing behind a curtain, these illuminated objects slipped into the very fabric of space and time itself. The light avoided the ghost, rushing around him the way a stream rushes around a rock.  

The ghost’s face hung on him and he looked more faded than he had before.  “Looks like one of your neighbors has passed on. You’ll get used to all of this after a while,” the ghost said in a voice that sounded more like the wind than a noise created by a human.

“Wait, what?  What are you talking about? I’ll get used to it?  What am I getting used to?”  Peter knew the answer to the question before he asked.  

Not only had the light flowed into everything but the ghost, it had avoided Peter too.  He looked down at his hands and could see the table.  Small traces of light remained and danced and weaved their way speedily around him, careful to avoid contact.  

The ghost broke the silence.  “You know hell isn’t fire and brimstone – it’s a never-endinglight show where the lights get what they deserve and the ghosts get what they’ve always wanted.”          

Untied

Peter emerged from his house and stepped out on to his front stoop.  He looked to his left. John, his next-door neighbor, was standing on his stoop.  He wore a white button-up shirt, black tie, and navy blue pants.
Peter looked to his right.  Tom was standing on his stoop, adjusting his black tie, tightening it into the ring of fat that surrounded his neck.  He nodded at Peter. Peter returned the acknowledgment.
Peter looked down at this own clothing.  Gray Tie, white shirt, and navy blue pants.  He was safely dressed this morning.
The three men descended their stairs and went to cars parked sensibly close to the curb and safely out of the road. Each man drove a four-door sedan, that was good on gas and rated well for safety.  They drove to their office buildings where they worked in cubicles with others like them. To be unlike them would be unwise because to be different would bring attention and maybe questions and if there are questions, there have to be answers, but the people of Normality, USA had all the answers they needed or were comfortable with.   
The shifts at the office ended.  People turned off their computers and made their way to their cars that were unique only because their owners had gone to great lengths to be more normal than others.  Comments like, “oh that’s a pretty gray, there Charles, the dirt will barely show,” were frequently overheard in the parking lot. The people with the newest version of the same car everyone else had, were the envy of the lot.  The gaggle bantered about simple things and avoided the deeper depths where the secrets hid. They talked about the big game coming up that weekend or the latest unreality show, but they never talked about the boss’s unreasonable expectations or the shallow nature of their lives – they just went on treading water, careful to stay above the waves and even more careful to pretend they didn’t exist.
Peter walked through the lot, sending a wave to a couple co-workers as he went, “don’t do anything crazy this weekend.”  He turned the key and the four-cylinder purred to life. He backed from his spot and joined the procession exiting the parking lot.  Each car crept to the exit and slowly, but decisively moved into traffic. Peter merged into the flow of cars. For a second or maybe it was less than a second, he thought about going a different way home.  Wait, what? Why would I think about going another way when this way works just fine, with no surprises or delays? Peter shook his head. He wasn’t sure what that was – that little event, but he didn’t need it.  The inefficient little nuisance bothered him. His hands began to sweat, and the wheel felt slimy.
He pulled into his driveway and killed the engine.  He wiped his hands on his pants but he couldn’t seem to get them dry.  He looked at them and they glistened under the fading light of a late autumn day.  He felt a tightness in his chest that made breathing difficult. The more he noticed the tightness the tighter it got.  He wiped his palms harder on his pants. He rubbed them back and form, faster and faster. They began to burn, but he rubbed harder.  They didn’t feel drier, so he continued. The burn was intense and was all he could think about. He wanted dry hands and a clear mind like he always had.  He stopped rubbing and turned his hands over. They were red, with tiny rolls of navy blue material stuck to what sweat remained. As he stared at his hands, he noticed his breath moving in his nose, down his throat, around in his lungs and then out again.  There was peace in that. He sat, empty-headed for a few moments and just noticed the simple process of breathing. He felt better. He felt back on track. He got out of the car. He had a routine that demanded adherence. He felt better in the routine. There were no detours or sweaty hands within its confines.  There were only predictable outcomes, dependably prepared meals and neatly laundered clothes. Peter felt like he was back in his lane and safely back on track.
The next morning, Peter woke up at six am.  He always woke up without an alarm.  His early-to-bed and early-to-rise routine had his internal clock operating with a level of precision that would make the Swiss jealous.  He went through the morning rituals. Shave the face, brush the teeth and shower the body.
He stood clean and prepped in front of his closet.  Perfectly pressed clothes hung evenly spaced from a brightly polished rod.  He removed a white shirt and navy blue pants from their hangers. He moved to the tie carousel. He spun it, pondering which gray or black tie he’d wear. He twirled the carousel slowly and watched ties pass by like animals on a merry-go-round.  He stopped abruptly. A red tie hung neatly between a charcoal gray and jet black one. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead and rolled down his face. The tie was dull and faded with age.  It had been there forever but somehow he had missed it. He must have bought it a long time ago – probably when he was young and immature. The world didn’t have room for red ties or the fools that would wear such things.  Life was short and serious. He removed it from the hook and turned it over in his hand. His fingers removed a layer of dust, revealing a vibrant red fabric underneath. He stood, slacked-jawed, “well it’s just the prettiest thing isn’t it?”  He gave the tie a couple good shakes and freed it from its dusty covering.
He put on his shirt and pants.  He stood in front of the mirror and held the tie up to his neck.  A slow burn began in his mind. He positioned the tie to simulate wearing it and found the red against the white fuel the warm, glowing sensation within him.  The excitement smoldered and spread down into his throat where it met resistance coming up from the anxious knot forming in his chest.
These two forces struggled in his center.  Each pushing the other, gaining and losing ground in the war for Peter’s attention, but the warmth of inspiration spread like a slow-burning wildfire until it consumed the knot and any doubt along with it.  
He put the tie around his neck and formed the knot that would cost him his life.  
He snugged the tie up under the wings of his collar and shifted it, into the right spot.  His breath caught in his throat. The white shirt looked purer because of the red tie and the red tie looked more vibrant because of the white shirt.  The two together had formed something that wasn’t possible in a world where only the bland get noticed.
He stood for several moments admiring the sight in the mirror and the feeling it produced in the fabric of his being.  He spun around, grabbed his briefcase and car keys and went back to the mirror for one last look. This time he noticed the smile on his face.  He had forgotten that his mouth was capable of that. Today a red tie had lifted the corners of his mouth and the center of his soul.
He stepped out into his front stoop.  John and Tom were already in their normal spots.  They were wearing similar clothes, safely the same and safely normal.   Tom noticed Peters tie first. His face went through a range of contortions before it settled in a disgusted arrangement of mouth, eyes, and eyebrows.
Peter looked over towards John but his gaze never made it to John’s stoop. Neighbor John stood in front of Peter.  He’d never talked to John – neither had anything unique to bring to a conversation so none was ever needed.
John stared at the tie.  “What, um, what is that… what are you doing?”  John’s forehead and upper lip glistened with sweat despite the morning‘s crisp temperatures.  
“It’s a tie.  I liked it and decided to wear it today,”  Peter said with a slight smile and a reoccurrence of the sensation that had made him wear the tie in the first place.
Tom joined them on the stoop. Peter backed up into the closed front door.  The stoop was built for coming and going, not congregating.
Tom’s gaze was fixed on Peter’s tie. “Why would you do this?”  “I mean why would you, um step out like this?”
“I just saw the tie today and decided I liked it, but I really don’t know why so I can’t answer you.”.
John stepped closer, “but people don’t wear red ties or any other color for that matter.”  
“You guys can wear whatever you want. Why can’t everyone just wear whatever makes them happy?   
John and Tom looked at each other, dumbfounded   
“Happy, what does that have to do with anything?”  Asked John.
Tom stepped even closer.  “what you’ve done is weird and doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”.
John nodded, “weird, yes that’s what this is, weird.  You’ve gone off the deep end here Peter, no telling what you’ll do next.”.
Tom crossed his arms,” that’s a really good point what the hell will he do next. This behavior has thrown everything out of whack”.
“Can’t be trusted,” said John.
“Sure seems that way,” Tom agreed.
“Wait, you guys can wear whatever you want too. Don’t you see, there’s nothing wrong with it?  Look I’m fine, nothing, bad happened. Sun’s still shining and the birds are still singing.”
Tom and John looked around as if they had just noticed that a thing called the sun and things called birds, existed for the first time.  
Tom shook his head, “I liked things the way they were yesterday.  I knew what was going on and I had everything figured out. I didn’t have to waste time thinking about anything.  Went to work, did my job and went home and went to bed. Now I don’t know what’s going on. This tie makes me feel something.  Like, I feel really bad.”
John nodded again. “You’re right I’m feeling something and I sure don’t like it.  Yesterday was much easier, and the day before that and the day before that. They were so easy in fact that I don’t really remember them. I liked things much better before this feeling thing.  Now I’m all stirred up like someone let loose a bunch of bugs in my head.
Tom hit Peter first.  A punch that landed squarely on the jaw and sent Peter back into the door and onto the ground.  
Tom stood over Peter. “Um, you brought this on yourself. I’m messed up. I’m unsure about things.  What else don’t I know? 
Peter struggled to his side. John kicked him in the face.
“A red tie?  You’ve got no right to force us to feel or think.”  “We didn’t have this problem yesterday. “He stomped Peter ’s bloody face.
Tom and John stood over Peter as his fixed eyes stared off into forever and his last breaths bubbled through his broken face.
Tom turned to John, “what happened here?”
”I don’t know, I mean why would he upset the apple cart like that?”  John replied
Tom shrugged. ”I can’t figure it out.”.
“Starts with a red tie and then who knows what’s next. “
“Nobody knows.  Anything then right? Think of the possibilities – actually don’t do that. No good can come from that.”  Tom put his hands to his face and shook his head.
John agreed. “You start messing around with thoughts and feelings and there’s no telling what will happen”.  
“Well, that’s behind us now. “
“Right.  Back to normal. “
“This messed up my whole day.  I’m late for work”
“Me too”
“If I explain to my boss, he’ll understand.  He certainly wouldn’t tolerate a person crazy enough to wear a red tie. “
“Mine either.  My boss likes things by the book.  Orderly and productive that’s what we do.  It’s better that way. “
“For sure.”  He pointed down at Peters’s lifeless body. “He said happy.“
I heard that I thought to myself what the hell does happiness have to do with anything?”
“I know right.  Life ain’t about being happy it’s about getting things done and maintaining order – the system depends on it. “
“That’s right. Very true.”
“Well enough talk, it’s off to work. “
“Right same here.”  

The two descended the stairs and parted, each going to their car.
Tom stopped before getting into his sedan, “Hey John,” he yelled.
“Yes, Tom.”
“You feel anything? “

John gripped the door, it was the only thing that kept him on his feet. Tom noticed that John was crying. John yelled,  “Tom why would you ask such a stupid question?”  
John threw himself into the driver’s seat.  Tom watched as the backup lights flashed on and the brake lights dimmed. Johns car whined as he demanded all the four cylinders could give him. He smashed into Peter’s car with a terrible crash.  
Tom jumped and ran to the wreck.   John was in the front seat. His eyes stared straight ahead, “Tom my head went back and forth hard, I heard my neck crack.  I can’t move Tom. I can’t feel anything”.  John laughed at his own comment but his laughter transitioned to crying.  “I feel something, Tom. It’s in my head and it’s terrible. I feel sad. I feel scared. I didn’t have this problem yesterday.”  
Tom didn’t know what to do as he watched John flow between fits of crying and bouts of horrible laughter. Suddenly, John became calm and still, there were no longer any of the terrible signs of thinking or feeling. Tom wanted to go to the car but didn’t. He wanted to run, but couldn’t. He saw Peter on his stoop and John now, still and silent in his car and it was all too much to handle.  The world spun in a new direction. He could feel it. He felt like he was about to be thrown off the globe – out into space and out into whatever was out there. He kneeled in the middle of the road. His mind raced with thoughts of a red tie, Peter and John.  He cried because he was feeling so much all at once. He wasn’t good at this. He only wanted an end. He wanted to go to work and worry about the numbers again. The numbers always added up, but this morning was a problem he couldn’t solve. The thoughts moved in and out, repeatedly, the same painful ones, the same painful visions. People should be happy and do what they want.

“We can’t do what we want,” he yelled. “We can’t. It doesn’t work like that.” He rocked back and forth and he felt like his head was out of control and not his own.
He looked to the car and the stoop and back again. He couldn’t stop. He stood up and jumped headfirst into the street. His head slammed into the pavement and intense pain killed the thoughts and blinded him to the visions.  He felt dull and pain clouded hints of what was. Things will never be normal again. The thoughts popped back into focus and circled his mind, this time accompanied by confusion. He brought himself to a kneeling position, tendrils of blood streamed from his head and onto the road. He arched his back and drove his head into the road one last time, finally quieting his mind.  

Tom lay still on the cold asphalt next to John’s idling car and in front of Peter’s, stoop as one last thought entered and exited his mind, I’d like to be happy too.

Update


I have a lot of things I’d like to do but there aren’t enough hours in the day. I know If you’re reading this your probably thinking, no shit buddy.  

I have uploaded a couple episodes of the UnreasonableMe podcast to Anchor. The service is simple and easy but I want more flexibility going forward. Anchor does all the distribution leg work for you. I’ve decided to take that on myself and since I have zero experience doing a podcast, there is a little bit of a learning curve. I’m good with that.

I’ve got several podcast planned and intend to complete them and ideally upload them this weekend.

“What are they going to be about?” Okay, okay calm down I’ll tell you.

I plant to do an intro podcast to layout my plans and the direction I plan to take going forward.

The next few will focus on the two short stories I’ve posted to the blog. I plan to look at the ideas that sparked each story and the creative juices that fueled them into being. Should be fun. The idea behind the blog/podcast, is that I’m using creative expression to meet and greet the demons that prevent me from being the person that is at peace within himself. I want to explore the problematic parts of my personality, understand them more and poke a little fun at them too. Like I said, this should be fun.

World peace is likely impossible, but inner peace seems within reach.

Stay tuned.

You Snooze, You Lose

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.