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I covered the floor with paper. And let me tell you that is not so easy these days. There is simply not that much paper laying around. They donít print that many newspapers anymore. We no longer have stacks of them in cardboard boxes in the garage. For that matter we donít have cardboard boxes in the garage. If we want a box, we likely go buy one of those plastic storage bins to put things in. So I tried to cover the floor with paper. What I ended up with was a mix of paper and grocery store plastic.
I got nothing. It might be something. I mean sometimes nothing can be something. All I have to do is capitalize it. Nothing. Nothing came home late from work. It was dark outside and there were no stars in the sky. He threw his shirt at the hook on the wall, but it was not there. He just wore a shirt; he didnít have a jacket. He didnít have a car either. He would have taken an Uber home, except he didnít have a credit card either. He didnít believe in credit cards. He didnít believe in anything, really. Nothing.
Iím drawing a blank. Didnít I do this yesterday? No, yesterday was nothing. Today you see I am drawing a blank. I am drawing on a sidewalk, down on my hands and knees with sidewalk chalk. I am currently drawing with the purple chalk, swapping it out for the blue chalk. I am thinking about the red chalk, but I am not sure. I may have lost the red chalk. How do you draw a blank? Does it take lots of squiggly lines? My blank seems to require these squiggly lines. However, they are parallel. They are parallel squiggly lines.
The squiggly lines on the cement panel were dancing this morning. They would straighten and then contract back to their original squiggle in time to the music. The lines were blue. They could have been red, but the artist couldnít find the red chalk. Someone is coming down the sidewalk just now. It is a young child. She is skipping. She skips over the squiggly lines, smudging them slightly. As the day wore on others came and went on the sidewalk, passing over the lines, smudging them, gradually turning them to powder coloring the sidewalk uniformly until they disappeared altogether.
It was hanging from the ceiling, dangling from a shiny new chain. The chain was bolted to the ceiling, a single lag bolt through the last link and obviously screwed into a stud behind the drywall there. It slowly rotated on the end of the chain like some kind of strange clock pendulum. It was a toy car, made of metal, large enough for a small child to sit in and petal. The steering wheel actually was designed to steer the car. These days it would have been a battery powered car, but this one was made for muscle power.
The carpenters showed up early this morning to install the door wall. I assume they were carpenters. They had carpenter pencils. I had mixed feelings about the quality of their work. I guess I have always had mixed feelings about the work of carpenters. I learned this, I think, at an early age because my father was a carpenter and nothing was ever done to his satisfaction. I think that by his death he was trying to say something different to me, but by then I was so used to hearing the other that I couldnít make sense of him.
There are many places to hide in this house. One of my favorite places is in the wall, right below the thermostat. I like to sit on a drip loop on one of the wires thereÖa red one I think. I imagine it is warmer there, although that is probably just my imagination. It is a little dusty in the wall, although it is not as dark as you would think. There are all sorts of little places where light creeps in. Another thing is the spiders. I hate the spiders in the walls. They are so belligerent about everything.
In here the spiders march up and down the walls carrying signs. They have little shiny boots, and the laces are never tied. They march with the laces flopping up and down, their skinny knees bobbing in unison. They are constantly initiating territorial disputes. It makes you want to put up a fence, or buy a dog. You cannot appease the spiders. You cannot fight them. It is just escalate, escalate no matter what you do. Spiders would rule the entire world if they could. I donít know. Maybe they do rule the world. Their little egg sacs are everywhere.
There is some little thing I need to start this, a seed of sorts. It is small, like most seeds, an oblong one, pointed on either end. It is brown with lighter spots. It is full of energy unable to stand still. It can practically fly on its own. It is an alien spacecraft that has invaded our atmosphere. It was tracked briefly by a radar installation in Alaska, but they quickly lost it. The incident was quietly filed with the other similar incidents. The seed flew on oblivious to the radar blips, too full of energy to notice them.
It has become what I write about. I donít think I will apologize. The clock stood quietly in the re-sale shop, its pendulum hanging in the dark wooden coffin of a box. The weights were wrapped with a heavy cloth, perhaps to keep them from banging against one another. If you touched the clock case you could hear the chimes moving inside, stealthily. The face of the clock was oversized, with unusual markings on it. It could have been a barometer, or even a meter to measure the presence of beings of supernatural origin. Two chimes mean ghost at 3 oíclock.
There is another clock across town. It is similar to the re-sale shop clock in height and it has a similar mechanism. The face is smaller and the cabinet is made largely of glass. It is all shiny and bright, and unlike the first clock this one is fully functional. It bangs out chimes every hour and marks the quarter hour with other chimes. It is rooted deeply in a house there, clock veins running through the floor and walls. It has clock hands reaching out, touching. This, however, is the beginning of a story rather than the end of it.
The third clock is in a different house, in a different state. It is similar to the second clock and to the first clock at the same time. It has a wooden case, but it also has a glass front. It has a smaller face like the second clock. It, like the second clock, is also currently running. There is a neat round hole in a shelf at its base where a weight fell off its wire and plunged through. The weight was fixed, but the hold never was. This clock is also deeply rooted in its chosen house.
The fourth clock may or may not exist. It is in the U.K., maybe 40 kilometers south of London. It is in a drawer of miscellaneous items. It is actually a gold pocket watch. The watch is almost surely run down now. It is attached to a long gold chain. The gears in the case are ready to move. The ratchet is poised. The watch is dreaming that it is swinging from the chain. It is dreaming that the gears have been freshly oiled and the case is gleaming. It dreams it is in a room surrounded by living clocks.
The clocks are all awake now. The brass pendulums are swinging. The gears are moving, gentle breezes surrounding them. They are sending vibrations to each other. They are, of course, in perfect unison. They are alive, flashing in precise accord. Flashing in dance. They are singing praises. This is what these clocks do: they sing. The wood, metal, and glass cases are breathing. The dampers have fallen off the weights of the first clock. The second clock is swaying gently. The third clock has moved a full two inches from its corner. The watch is spinning silently in its drawer.
Subject. I need to find a subject. There used to be a small store near here that carried subjects, but the proprietor retired and the space was leased to a couple who opened a bakery in the space. There was also a warehouse on the other side of town that was used to store subjects years ago, but after a fire the warehouse was padlocked. Rumor is that none of the subjects inside survived anyway. I could look on Amazon or eBay, but it could take days to get a subject that way. That pretty much left me with Craigslist.
I ate the grapes. I ate all of the grapes. I ate the whole bowl. They were so good, fat and juicy and cool as they burst open in my mouth. The stems just detached from them effortlessly. They didnít have mysterious little dents and wrinkles on their surfaces. And they were so big. They could have been plums. I mean she put them out for me to eat, so why shouldnít I have eaten them? I wonder if I should confess to her that I ate them, but she is going to know soon enough without my saying anything.
There are stones embedded in the broken asphalt surrounding the sinkholes in the road in front of the house. The sinkholes have always been there, but it seems they have gotten a lot bigger. No, not seems; they have gotten a lot bigger. I used to worry about my Honda getting stuck in one of them, but now I worry about my Honda disappearing in one of them. When I back out of the driveway, I have to steer around one of the closer ones. Today a delivery truck disappeared in our neighborhood. I think I know where it went.
There were a couple bumps on the horizon. They were headed this way but we figured they wouldnít be here for a couple days. That would give us plenty of time to prepare for them. We would have them bottled up well before they passed the perimeter. We spent the night with the roof open so we could see the stars. The bumps didnít seem to pay much attention to the stars. What they did pay attention to was the dogs. We always let the dogs out at night in case any of the bumps got past the watch tower.
I looked at the address on the scrap of paper. The paper was long and ragged, torn on all four sides around the address. It was soiled, grease stains and dark finger prints. I might have seen this house before. I should have. I used to live on this street. But I had expected an apartment building. It was, instead a house divided up into several apartments. The entry was not what I remembered for this place. Perhaps my memory was at fault. All I had to do now was to walk up to the door and knock on it.
It was a wood door, painted brown. It had one foot-square pane of glass at eye level. Arranged below that vertically were two square wood panels with recessed circles in them. There was a brass knocker screwed to the door below the window. The door handle and deadbolt were also brass. The concrete walk ran the length of the house and curved around the corner to the left. Dying flower beds hugged the house up to the sidewalk. I could see the reflection of a tree in the window. Then I saw a flash of movement on the other side.
I could just start typing. Thatís how it always begins. It begins with some little thing on the page. Then it starts to replicate. Each replication brings about errors and the replication begins to diversify. The words skitter across the floor and run up the walls. They cross the ceiling and race down the other side, like armies of ants. You can almost feel their little legs crawling up your arms. They crawl over your face, across your eyes, and into your hair. Somehow they get into your brain. Thatís when things start to go south. Youíre in for it.
There was a tentative knock at the door. Thatís what woke me up. It was a little ďlet-me-inĒ knock. Rolling over I turned on the lamp. It was shortly after three in the morning. I rolled out of the bed and went through the living room to the door of the apartment. Looking through the peep hole I could see a young woman in a wedding dress. She was crying. I was naked. ďGive me a minute to put something on,Ē I said. She gave a nervous look to her left as I left the door to get a robe.
It took me a little while to find my robe. I was a little confused, and it was the middle of the night. She seemed to be urgent about her knock, and I thought a moment about just wrapping a towel around my waist, but I finally found the robe. Tying it around me I went back to the door. Looking out the peep hole I saw only an empty hall. I opened the door and went out into the hall. It was empty. I went down the hall and up the stairs, out on the landing. A quiet night.
The place to start seems to be the snow. Itís out there in the dark, covering everything. Itís out there in the daylight covering everything. Soot has fall onto it out of the sky, staining it with a black screen stretching out to the horizon. Beneath the snow, in the perpetual twilight, the light green of the starved grasses still lives. They are pushing, so delicately against the belly of the snow. A snow snake slithers by, dark red against the green, slightly iridescent. There is a flutter of sound against the snow. Something is shaking snow off the tree.
High overhead, a squirrel has landed on a branch. Now it is waiting head turning side to side as it watches the field of snow below. The snow snake launches through the snow and into the night above with a hissing. Itís tail cracks like a whip. The squirrel remains motionless on the limb and the snake reaches the apex of its leap about two feet below the squirrel and falls back into the snow. The squirrel looks at the spot on the snow where the snake fell and dances from foot to foot. The night is unusually quiet now.
Another squirrel runs out on a limb on a nearby tree and crosses over to the first squirrel. He watches her come along the limb. ďThe snakes are out in the snow,Ē he whispers to her as she draws near. ďI saw,Ē she replies. ďWhat will we do for food now?Ē he asks. She thinks for a minute. This thinking is new to her and she needs time to sort through it, to make it work. ďMaybe,Ē she said, ďMaybe we need a better idea of how many are out there, an idea of how quickly a second can jump.Ē
The other coffee table was in the basement. It was a twin to the one upstairs in the living room. The one in the basement was not happy with being in the basement. It was dark in the basement and cold. The table scooted across the carpet in the dark. It scooted up to the stairs and felt the lower step against its legs. It bumped up against the step, but try as it might, it could not get a leg up on the step. It called to its twin upstairs. The one upstairs whimpered and turned toward the steps.
I won a pig. I won! I won! I get to take it home with me. Iím not sure what I will do with it when I get it home. I am too advanced socially to do my own butchering. Besides it is a little pig, all squealing and squiggly. I could keep it as a pet, but I am barely allowed to keep a dog where I live. What would I do with the pig? Iíve read that they can be housetrained. How does one housetrain a pig? Do I put papers down in the bathroom? A litter pan?
It was a round shiny aluminum pan full of popcorn. It was sitting in her lap as she watched TV. She dipped her hand into the pan. Some of the popcorn disappeared. A poacher on the TV took a shot at an elephant. Some of the popcorn disappeared. The rest of the popcorn became concerned. Hell, even the elephant became concerned. The elephant should not have worried. The poacher was a very bad shot. The woman dipped her hand into the popcorn. Some more of the popcorn disappeared. The rest of the popcorn held a meeting to discuss the problem.
The street was empty, with houses lined up behind the piles of fresh snow. The red car came down a side street and made a right turn onto this one. You could hear the tires squeak as they turned on the snow. She turned carefully, angling the car down this new street in the snow. On the seat next to her was a box. It was taped up with several layers of two different kinds of tape. She paused at the next street, turning left after waiting for the traffic to clear. Then she drove off down the street alone.
The Tip Jar