Two o’ clock worked for his roommate back home, so he believed it would work here. He surfaced from the given blanket. Somewhere in this house, he would have a drink, seven o’ clock departure time or not, so he could go back between the couch cushions and finally sleep. There was no worse time for him for the pains to salivate and dig in his stomach.
For all he knew, the constantly scattered, soft slams of his door could be the keeper-upper tonight instead. The all-knowing summer wind planned not to leave until someone thanked It for serving them this hot day. It also turned tonight restless. It made the two doors of this soft room with that long couch click sporadically all night. This house had many windows, but only the one here seemed to have a frame that was about to fall inside the house.
He stepped as if one step, past the shelves with many books and movies, the TV with many channels. With the knob turned, the door flew into his awaiting hand so he could slide by and close it back, with only a few creaks complaining. His night vision did not fail him tonight, but it was aided by an orange moon rolling in still clouds.
The kitchen had many cabinets. His shaking hands of sweat opened them all to find only many plates, many silverware, many unopened, unobtainable manufactures that could temper him if he could only open one without leaving a trace. There was no alcohol in the refrigerator either, but there was a pitcher of heavy filtered water he gladly helped himself too.
As he sipped, he was reminded of other vacations and remembered wincing whenever his host’s family described themselves as ‘country.’ Central New York had countryside, surely, but any ‘country’ home with as much stuff as they had had no claim. It didn’t matter how much they bragged that no one needed to lock doors around here.
Door click pressure on a creak upstairs. His toes inched up and his heart hid in his throat. Soon after, he remembered that, all night, this had followed a pattern: wind gust, fool’s terror. Once more, he hoped he could just drink until his rancid blood seeped from his eyes, or at least until another blackout.
He knew of two TVs residing in this house, one in his room that he couldn’t use without waking up someone… the last thing he wanted was to talk to someone. But his hosts mentioned an old one this evening in the basement. With cell-phone clutched, he dragged tingling feet to the door leading to a stairwell.
The phone light was terrible, and each step of the stair wailed in agony in contact with pale skin. It moved in an old wooden square down, naked in each plank of wood, each metal pipe. He rushed the last few steps to the light switch and threw it open. Light poured on the cold grey floor. The walls were covered in first grade paintings, but that wasn’t important now; in front of him was another refrigerator.
His instincts commanded he jump in celebration right into its handle, but the winds kept reminding him people could be watching. So the only jubilant chorus joining him as he crept past dusty Ping-Pong tables and the bare bulbs was the beating heart, bouncing, refusing to sleep even at its master’s expense. His feet glided too fast for the rock-frozen floor to catch up.
His hand overcame the suction of the fridge, and there it was! Orange cases filled the inside and in the door. Yet nothing was opened, no cardboard carrier molested. Shaking fists slammed the door… as desperate as he was, he could not leave such obvious traces. The drink had taken all but his countenances these past lonely years.
The moon shone bigger this night than the last. This house had many window-doors, such as the one his iron eyes gazed up at. Grass swayed back and forth, back and forth towards him.
Another creak accelerated the headache. After navigating many old toys to discover the TV here was broken, he sat to think. But nothing could come to him, and he only had eyes for the window-door that took the slaps of the wind. He creaked back up the stairs, shivering and more awake than ever, fighting the wind so the two doors behind him wouldn’t slam on his way to the couch he flopped on. Pulling the blanket over him, he closed his eyes.
It did not last long. The wind returned with a new ferocity, whistling like a hitchhiker through the house’s many cracks, rattling each door, turning each creak into the noise of a night prowler. And when he could not sleep, his mind would churn. Every seam in him churned in rhythm, asking for more of what they craved… not for the taste of suds, but for an end.
He sat up suddenly, idea in mind. His host family had relatives a hill away that he was introduced to. No one here was frightened enough to lock doors, no matter how much they owned. Any drinks would get lost in the shuffle of another party, probably one the next day.
He had never done anything like this before and would’ve cursed himself had he thought of this another time. The light of his cell phone was dying. Another turn of a knob and wail of a doorway would surely wake up a host, if not one of the kids. It was bad enough to meet a whole family today, yesterday, in the house by the lake. Any upcoming meeting would be far worse. He could fall asleep on his own, if he wanted to. He had done so unknowingly before.
But tonight was not a night to take chances. He could have a hangover tomorrow, he could be pragmatically and fearfully mute tomorrow, but tonight he would sleep well again. With renewed legs he found his shoes and outfoxed the creaks of the door back into the hallway, and was soon sliding a scratching screen door out of the house.
The air was no less dark than when he began staring at it on the couch so long ago. Down into the quivering night he flew, momentum trembling with each step downhill. There was a path in the thin tall plants cut for walks, which he took hand in hand with moonlight and the buggy stench.
The path led right up to the relative’s summer home. He smiled for remembering that; he couldn’t tell otherwise with the house’s shimmering strong light left on and pointed at him. It glared, unflinching. Careful steps were taken on the bumpy mush ground across the yard of many grassblades.
In what he assumed was the first time ever, the door was locked. Still undeterred, he cut to the side of the grey wall, hand on its side to help with the sudden darkness surrounding. Its ridges led him to the lakeside door of the screened porch, which was also locked. This didn’t stop a few more pulls in frustration.
Each crashing wave into the lake rocks below echoed and grew. It was now the wind’s chance to toss and turn, only it now rolled, rolled its path down from the heavens and slamming its own echoing waves into the lakehouse. At a tired walking pace he fled.
The journey uphill was spent hating all the wasted days his life had already churned out. What was the point of it all if his life just led up to this old misery, times quick and painful, days pleasant and awful? He knew reading never put him to sleep, yet he could see nothing else to do. Even at this low state, he knew he couldn’t bare going up to a stranger’s house. Especially now that he was back to the sprawling white home of hosts that grassblades clung to.
There was a light on downstairs. Panic breezed past and shoved him into the side of the house. If someone was awake, surely a quick glance had been given to the couch his guest should have been sleeping on. He waited for more noise, thinking about how he took a walk because he couldn’t sleep, that’s the truth in a way, didn’t visit anyone…
Even the wind seemed to know to quiet during these hour-long minutes. No sounds traveled through the house. Looking at that high, lit window, he deduced that it was the light of the bathroom, the bathroom he had visited several times tonight out of boredom. He only tentatively grew more frustrated at himself as he took a step, then a walk, up to the screen door. He was still cautious when sliding the door and sliding himself back to what he called Living Room Part Trois.
Once again the pillow resisted the back of his scratchy head, remaining soft yet stubborn. As useless as his large blanket was, he figured that the half-bent open window by him was keeping someone happy, and disturbing that would be the worst thing he’d imagine happening. His eyes were schizophrenic. Elbows stretched and relaxed, demanding switches between the two nearly every half-minute. The worst part was the shaking, the steam hovering over his thoughts, the feverish sweat that denounced his cowardice over what he guessed were only five hours apart from his soma.
Creak. Thump and the drum of an old door. His upper half sprung up. Now he knew there must be someone in the house that didn’t belong! With the creaking winds, this would be the best night for a break-in. He already could see its foggy face hauling one of the smaller TVs. A few creaks more, and he would be ready to get up and prove once and for all that a burglar arrived in this house at…
He turned to the TV beside him and involuntarily pushed back with a silent gasp. The clock read eleven o nine. He had been up for nine hours, and it was still the same dark outside his window.
The wind bull-rushed its way through his room and punched open the door next to his couch, leading his eyes into another bedroom with the door’s gunshot slam. Amongst low-angle posters and shelves surrounding its bed, a child lay, asleep and without clothes, on top of scattered sheets.
First instinct was to jump up and shut the door quick. Yet when his hand reached the handle and caused the first squeal of sound, his eyes glanced over to the bottle. The bottle preached to an invisible crowd below the dresser it stood upon, poised to join it in enough time. The wind rattled its glass. Its contents were blackened, and he could see no label.
Glancing back, it was still eleven o ten. His head was still throbbing, yet could reject the foolish idea the substance placed. If he disturbed it, accepted its still unlikely nectar, he would become the only possible culprit in the morning, if there ever was to be once. And if time had somehow turned against him, then what could have happened to the people.
Yet here he stood, transfixed and fascinated. It might be alcohol, it might not… but there would be one way to settle that. He could reach it without even relaxing his grip on the handle. The chances of that waking someone were essentially nil. For all he knew, he could drink, sleep, and wake up to the family laughing about him discovering, ‘the funny clock.’ It was preferred at this point, this last time. He centered, exhaled, and reached on his tiptoe over the mess of the floor, the fingertip reaching the top of the bottle and only shaking it a little.
The child’s torso bolted up, causing a noise of cracking fluid, staring at the reacher with closed eyelids. The head followed his hand as he brought it down to his side. The child’s eyelids opened to reveal no eyes at all.
He slammed the door in a flash and turned, only to find his belongings, the many books, the many movies gone and all windows with a torn slash in the screen.
Faces swam in the floor: the face of the lean friend and his stunning wife and their dark-haired children, all now with three corners of their mouth stretched half a foot away from each black tooth inside. A knock came from the door his hand had practically merged with: one two, one two, one two.
The wind blasted in in loudest force, its breath cold and salivating on his clammy skin. Something had absorbed the smell of the room. The faces moved in closer with open mouths. One two. The backside of the room approached with the wide-eyed faces. One two.
“I’m sorry!” he tried to shout through a cotton throat. “I know what I did! I really meant to talk!”
As he reached for his cell phone in pocket, the small hand behind him encompassed his neck and pulled him in. There was not even the moonlight left.