Your head throbs. Waves of pain at the base of your skull accompany grains of light in your vision. Slowly the world becomes apparent as these grains accumulate together into a complete perspective. Your head stops throbbing as you notice a vanilla-colored ceiling start above you, How did life get so hard for you? You know things aren’t usually this bad for most people. This is odd, this is extremely odd. It can’t last forever. If this were the norm, more people would be jumping off bridges. Maybe you should consider the same. Remember when I was a painter? Just a painter. You had a drug problem. Who doesn’t have a drug problem? It’s not even a problem, it’s an appreciation. It would be a problem if it did this to everyone. This being, the unbelievably miserable series of events that led you to wherever you are. Where’s Fisher? Screw ‘em. Honestly, you don’t know where Fisher is and you shouldn’t care. That’s not true. What’s important now, is figuring out my next step. I can’t just keep moving around wherever I want. I might not live in Aydin’s apartment anymore, but my stuff still does. You’re still interested in finishing that pitiful hand you were making? It may have been unfinished, but whose fault is that? Off the top of my head, I blame God. I doubt God even knows your name. You’re a pessimist. Don’t play with me. How many times have you woken up in a strange place? Face it, kid, you can’t control a damn thing in your life. I can control this conversation. You forget: I spoke first. First time that’s ever happened, and it won’t be the last time you wake up hearing me either.
Sighing at your own interior monologue, you turn your head and take your first glance at this room. You’ve grown accustomed to waking in strange rooms—a fact you’re disappointed now to recognize. Depression takes up more room where once you could have stored pride. You sigh again.
Until now, you hadn’t cared to inspect your surroundings; staring at the vanilla-colored ceiling was done to condone the inner dialogue. After turning your head, a reprint of Michael Dahl’s Lady Carew jumps into view. You’ve never seen this painting before; an odd curiosity always accompanies a new painting. The woman in the frame confuses you with her stare: while in a pose that should seem intriguing or beguiling, she looks disdainfully aware of your gaze. Whatever this woman had thought while her portrait was being made must of have been repugnant and real.
Strange. But I do enjoy her dress. Reminds me of the sundresses I’d seen in Chicago. Is there anything better in this world than a yellow sundress? A smile is had at the thought whilst your eyes wander past the portrait. Away from the painting, the room comes into view, and you realize your location. Quickly, you note that the Dahl reprint stands as the room’s only new feature. After so many years, everything else has stayed the same: the vanilla ceiling, the tiring stretch of the bookshelf—even the old tweed sofa where you’ve awoken.
You’re home. Not Chicago, but Baltimore, laying in the small den with the tweed couch beneath you, a brown rug beneath that, a coffee table parallel to everything mentioned, a large chair perpendicular to the rest, with the bookshelf behind the aforementioned chair. Your sudden appearance here intrigues you, forcing you to replay everything that has happened in the past day. You remember it all; well, not everything, but most things, including being shot twice. Looking to your leg, the hole in your jeans and the dent in your leg remain. Curious, moving your hand down the knee you feel your leg, only stopping once you reach the dent. The leg feels fine: nothing out of place, except for the tiny sharp nick that pushes out of your leg and jeans. Tapping the tip, you find the dent sensitive to your touch. It feels hot and inflamed. You keep poking it, hoping to figure it out, but that doesn’t seem to work; so, after three minutes of prodding, you decide to leave your leg alone.
Instead, you stare again at the reprint on the wall; only stopping once the anxiety of your presence in the room becomes entirely apparent. The last time you were here, you and your father had a tremendous fight. Fists were thrown, furniture was smashed, and your relationship then strained to the greatest degree. The energy of that day still lingers in the room. You feel volatile—like a bull in a china shop, or a matchstick in Chicago. Uncomfortable with the sensation, you stroll through your old home. Everything feels new, but you know better. Every room brings to life old memories of youth: days when your mother would read to you; the Christmas morning when you opened your first paint set. So many things come to mind, all in chronological order, and all hollow. Idiot. This isn’t real.
Passing from the small living room to the kitchen, your eighth birthday comes to mind, and no complementary emotions follow. The memory seems fond, but nothing else. For some reason, all the characters in your mind’s eye look scripted during the rapture of watching an eight-year-old blow out eight candles on a cake, but they fade away with little afterthought.
Your father’s kitchen is all business. On the left side of the yellow-tiled floor stands a gas stove, a refrigerator, and the standard kitchen counter: cabinets above, drawers below. The right side of the room contains only a table and a single chair. What a sad man. At the end of the kitchen is the door to the garage. Memories of having painted there jump to your attention. The hope of finding old works that look better than an unfinished hand come to mind, but the attraction suddenly disappears as you pass the refrigerator. Fresh food. You’d initially noticed your lack of hunger when waking up in the Centipede, but now you’re hungry again, and you know full well that a meal hasn’t been had in hours—possibly days. Back-tracking to the fridge, you’re happy to find food inside.
Just like the kitchen, your father’s fridge is no-nonsense. Piles of fruit and vegetables fill the daffodil-yellow fridge, along with a large jug of water and, next to that, something troubling: this can’t be proven without a doubt, but between the jug and some pears, you believe sits a jar of your blood. There’s no reason for assuming it’s not just jam or preserves, and yet, with a grotesque form of familiarity, you recognize it as blood, and somehow know it your own. What’s worse (if it is your blood), it’s clear that some has been removed: a few centimeters above the blood’s present margin, a faint line of transparent red stains the jar’s interior. Where did it go? Who took it out? Why does my father even have a jar of blood? Contrary feelings rebound off each other in the hokum thought process of why your father might have a jar of blood. Might be rhubarb, but not likely.
You avoid the jar, taking three pears instead before closing the fridge and lean against it while you eat. Halfway into your first pear a necessary question come to mind: How am I still alive? This is the third time I almost died. Maybe fourth, if the leg thing actually happened… I should be gone. I mean, I’m sure I was shot in the head. Tapping your forehead, no evidence of the gun shot is felt, and surprisingly, you smile.
Since your third (possibly second) near-death experience, suicide has seemed much more appealing. In your darker moments, death has become a silver lining: like a constant backdoor for any situation. But now, it has become apparent that the backdoor is locked, and left you trapped in an surrealist purgatory or a lukewarm hell. Immortality, or luck—whichever it had been—might be the worst thing you’ve found since heroin. Examining your condition provokes a macabre gratitude that, even knowing all the above, an eventual death remains uncertain.
You continue smiling facetiously as you begin your second pear. New thoughts emerge with this bite: morbid thoughts matching the cause for your smile. Since the arrival of your new neighbor, your ideas and imagination have skewed. Everything in your mind echoes off him, and the echoes show a room for dark inquiries. Some questions probe deeper than others: How would you like to die? Would you like some elegant death, like at the bottom of a lake? A dramatic presentation of serendipity, like an attack by the sound whale? Or a quick, neat shot to the head, like with Margaret? All have their pros and cons: hard to choose between them.
With your last pear before you, you weigh the virtues of suicide. It wouldn’t accomplish anything, and if it did you could never know for sure. That’s the thing though, anything worse couldn’t possibly exist and if it did, it would make death better by perspective. Life isn’t this feeling! Life is only about feelings. Certainly good ideas. Certainly valid, in their special ways….
Finished with your last pear, you wipe your hands on your shirt and step to the garage door. The thoughts linger a moment, but mute themselves once you enter the garage. The structure hasn’t changed since your youth: cement floor; plywood walls; and a sturdy, tan-colored roof. Only the contents have changed. Instead of finding your old paintings, your father’s car, or any lawn maintenance supplies, you find something unknown.
To you, it looks like a six-foot-tall piece of abstract art. The sculpture comprises both metal and stone, all melded together. With an artist’s eye the base of the assemblage become scrutinized. It’s bulbous and awkward—like the mineral and sediment had bubbled through the floor and solidified into the sculpture’s foundation. Above the abstract base, a large green ring surrounds a black rod at the ring’s center. On the side of the sculpture you see a small control panel. This thing isn’t a sculpture, you realize. it’s some kind of machine.
The control board looks identical to the one found near garage fifty-two: just one large button begging someone to press it. So, due either to your boredom, your nostalgia, or your semi-suicidal tendency, you decide to push the unknown button. The machine silently spins its ring and bobs its rod. You back away in curious anticipation, not knowing why but expecting a fantastic show, and indeed it is: as the ring and rod accelerate further, multi-colored lights emerge. Faint greens, spectacular reds, high-voltage blues, and starlight whites gather together and all glow in greater and greater intensity before throwing white sparks as tremors start running through the floor to the rhythm of the bobbing rod. Faster and faster the machine runs until it reaches its conclusion with a blinding flash.
Surprised you fall back against the far wall, momentarily blinded from what has happened. The machine decelerates, and the tremors subside. Rubbing your eyes, you slowly regain vision, and the drops of light you’ve been watching dance around the room focus into four rings of colors, five-foot-tall portals that now surround the machine: the first green, the second red, the third white, and the fourth blue, all attached with an umbilical beam connecting it to the machine’s bobbing rod. Each equally an enigma of possibility.
While all the rings are new, the white ring still seems somehow familiar. You’ve seen one like it, but you can’t remember where. Was it on TV? Or part of a trip? Finally, you remember: a ring like this rescued you at the bottom of Timur’s mansion. Drowning in an underground lake, a hand pulled you into a light much like that of this third ring. You’ve never really understood how all that happened; although, to be fair, you never had time to truly sit and consider it. Interested in the possibility of going home, and motivated by all the shortcomings that led to pushing the machine’s button in the first place, you decide to try one of these colorful portals.