Sneakers within reach, cheek pressed against the floor, he breathed dust and grime. He blinked. Fought to focus.
Light flooded the room. It was still day. The light was gray and it was aining, the clouds still low. He flexed his limbs. They felt wooden. The duffle bag sat on the bed behind him. Clothes had been balled up and stuffed in. Socks, underwear, t-shirts, all shoved deep.
Needing to get up, to go, he reached his arms out.
Lifting his hand to rub the sleep from his eyes, he blinked again. Stopped again and stared for what felt like the longest of minutes. Looked to the floor, into the shadows. Exhaled, long and slow. Closed his eyes. Counted eight, nine, ten. Opened his eyes and breathed deep as he quieted his thumping heart, exhaling again, patient and calm.
They lay within reach, his fingers. All eight of them lined up on the floor. No longer attached, no longer flexing from his knuckles, they dotted the wood. Eight familiar digits. No blood. No sign of struggle or trauma. No pain in his now flat fist.
He looked at his hand. The skin where the fingers had once been was smooth, the flesh of his knuckles thick and pale. No sign of decay. No indication this wound, these wounds, were fresh. As if years, two, maybe three, had passed since the digits had been severed or lost or stolen.
Bending forward, he collected them. The heels of his hands gathering his fingers into a neat pile, the knuckled stumps thumping wood as he scooped them up. But his hands now all thumbs, the orphaned digits fell, scattering to the floor.
Sitting back, his lifted his fingerless fists again. Turned his hands this way and that. Looked at the thick skin, the imagined hint of severed bone. Saw the spots of faint red glowing beneath the white. A trace of rubbed, rounded cartilage under the rough flesh.
He stared. Tried to make sense of it. Knew this was not the dream. Knew that what waited in the dream was worse, the horror of it unfinished. The memories of what happened fuzzy, but clear inescapable. Memories that turned his stomach and tightened his throat. That horrified him into silent tears. He exhaled, the thoughts of what waited in the nightmare of that meadow two, three years ago, crowding his head.
He had to get out.
Scrambling, he lifted and stood. He stopped, his head feeling light, the space behind his eyes empty. He struggled to think, to focus, Blinked, the light from the window feeling sudden and bright. Was tempted to lift his hands again. Confirm in this new glare the shocking theft he’d discovered in earlier shade. But knew he’d find nothing new, nothing changed, his fingers scattered in the shadows near the open closet door.
A long minute later, having struggled with the zipper of his duffle bag, his thumbs awkward without their eight familiar friends, he hooked the handle with his wrist and hoisted it over his shoulder.
He started toward the door. His head swooned. His cheeks burned red. Another yawn threatened from the bottom of his throat, tiny pin pricks scuttling up the back of his neck making him wince.
His knees buckled, his body bending, falling. He righted himself, his elbow catching the end of the bed. Taking a deep breath, he focused on the door. Just the door. Made getting to the door his goal. Getting to the next room, away from his fingers, away from the shadow, away from this stalking Sleep.
Made getting away the one thing, the next thing, driving him.
“I can’t,” he’d said two, three hours ago as she’d sat, tapping her pen against her chin.
“Why not?” She crossed her legs. The sole of her shoe had been repaired. Glued to the leather, the white streak marring the scuffed black distracting him.
“Some doors should stay closed,” he remembered saying.
The duffle bag hooked in his thumb, his feet tripped across the bedroom on Eidolon.
“Do you want relief?” The tapping pen stopped, pausing against her bottom lip. “Do you want peace? Sleep?”
He waited, leaning against the door jamb. He gazed through the living room with its sagging couch and Salvation Army coffee table into the small slip of a kitchen with its dented stove and too-small sink. Focused on the front door. He sighed and then regretted it, that small decision, that small thing, that sigh sapping his strength. The journey from here all the way to there, a dozen or so steps perhaps, seemed impossible.
If he could just get out of this room–
“Then listen to me.” Her hands on her note pad, she sat, knees together, both feet flat on the floor. “You need to open those doors.”
It was here, now, this Sleep. Beside him. Had stepped from the shadows. Darted past his discarded fingers. Angled past the bed. Found him resting against the door. Stood behind him like the coming of a storm, its breath a too-warm breeze buffeting the back of his neck.
One more step, he thought, ordering his feet to move as his eyes closed.
From hours before, she spoke, Sleep stealing him once again as he sank to his knees.
“Tell me about that day two, three summers ago.”
COMING MARCH 26th