“Millie” by A.T. Sayre

So Jack is this guy. Jack is five feet eleven inches tall, one hundred and eighty pounds, with brown eyes, dark wavy hair, and clearly complexed skin that covered fine, noble-looking features. He’s a trendy guy, always in nice sharp clothes, and always with that great air of self-confidence about him. He’s got one of those walks, real nice and casual, that puts you at ease just seeing it. Young and easygoing, that’s him. Just out of college, a good job with a desk all his own, and in a few years of hard work he might have the secretary and the window too. Another of the up and coming young gents that flow through life on easy street, the kind you could just tell from one look was part of the good crowd.

It’s never the same bar on any given weekend with Jack. There’s many that he plans his time around. Not one of them was exactly what you’d call a local, or his regular, but they were all, more or less, his familiars. Come a Friday or Saturday night Jack could be found with little effort–he’s always at one or the other of the upscale places. The nicely lit, high priced kind. The polished brass and table candle scene.

Jack would always stroll in around nine or so, and take up a seat with friends if he saw them, or just lean on the bar and strike up a talk with the people nearby, alternating between whiskey and club soda to keep his wits even with the golden glow of alcohol. He always came off cool like a cucumber and made friends real quick. He never would kiss up to them, see, he never did over flatter anyone just for approval, which always looks desperate and shallow. People liked to see the sensitive, caring, kind guy that all the up and comers really are deep down. And Jack could do that all right, show them what they wanted to see. He was so good at it, not saying the wrong thing. And with that working for him he could hold himself in any talk with anyone.

“You here alone?” Some woman in a long blue dress and a black top would ask him as he’d lean against the bar.

Jack would shrug. “I was supposed to meet some folks, but I guess they tanked on me. How about you?”

“I’m with a few friends,” she would say, pointing to the table that Jack had seen her get up from with the two other gals, one in white and the other in black.

Jack would nod, look their way for a measured bit, and look back. “A girl’s night out, huh?”

And she’d smile, laying those deep black eyes on him. “We go out together to places every once and a while. Old friends and all, can’t lose track.”

“Must be nice to get away from the men for a while.” He’d say as lightly as he could, taking a sip of his drink as he did, calmly, coolly, and above all, casual, casual, casual.

And she’d do that weird stork nod that women sometimes gave him. Where the head juts out a little on the upstroke. He would always know when that was coming.

“I’m Jack.” He’d always offer the hand while saying it.

“Terry.” She would take the hand and shake it lightly, measuring his palm sweat and his firmness as she did. Not too clammy, or coarse–Jack’s hands never were. And firm enough to be alive, but not overpowering; a gentle, friendly shake. No threats. No demands. No promises.

And they would talk on, straight through their drinks. And he’d be kind, and friendly, and always listening, always avoiding the controversial issues. Just a friendly talk about whatever came up, carefully steered away from land mines. Chit chat.

And then, as Jack would be taking one of his last sips, he would always say, “Well, I am being rude. Here I am talking your ear off, and keeping you from your friends.”

And she’d always look over at them then, as she hadn’t in a while, and find them still there, chatting amongst themselves. “Oh, it’s okay,” she would say, turning back. “They don’t seem to have missed me much.”

And Jack would smile back, that winning smile he always got when looking at the sure thing.

#

Later on, after he’d given Terry a good roll, got back home (can’t stay over, got that big presentation to work on, don’t you know), watched a little tube, and gone to bed, Jack would dream this:

Dark. Dark, so dark, but my room, my room, I can tell it’s my room by the wallpaper and the satin sheets, I’m awake in bed, my bed, its late and I’m awake. But I feel fine, just laying here on my stomach, facing the wall by my bed. I breathe deep and see funny things in the wall, things moving in the wall. Odd. I’ll just lie here and think and see things and dream awake until I doze again.

But then something presses on top of me can’t move and I hear that sound in my ear, the bass whisper that makes no words, and I try to move and get up but I can’t something on top of me and I can’t move a single finger and I feel trapped and suffocated but I can breathe I am not suffocating but I feel like I am and why can’t I move turn over roll over get on my knees wiggle a finger anything at all and I am getting nervous now scared a bit I can’t move there is a heavy weight on me holding me down I am paralyzed suddenly and I can’t get out of bed-

He’d wake up from that, but not for too long. He’d breath heavy for just a sec, and then go back under quickly enough, and sleep uninterrupted the rest of the night.

He’d wake in the morning with no recollection of the nightmare, other than feeling just a little bit sluggish without knowing why. And he’d just shrug it off, and go out to have a nice Sunday picnic with Jacqueline, the one he’d have met last weekend at DeVoe, one of his familiars. He’d slip into his neat and clean outdoors clothes, call her up, put together a good ol’ picanic basket, and slip three condoms into his pocket, because sex in the great outdoors with Jacqueline, the nature lover, was a definite possibility.

And after, he’d drop Jacqueline off, head home, shower, put away the remaining condom, and even though it was Sunday and a school night, get dressed again, eat a little, and then off to the Grange, another of his locals. A fine upstanding place where the drinks were high and the people pretty. He’d stroll in when there’d be just a hint of the summer color left in the sky, and see Jenn in the corner with two drips who were giving her the bad pick up hassle.

Jenn was one of the fellow up and comer types he liked, a slightly more than casual screw of his. She was nice, nice to look at, nice personality, and the two of them grooved so well together that it sometimes seemed eerie. They saw each other a lot, as they floated in the same bars, and regularly had the same urge for the same bar on the same night. They were that much in sync sometimes.

Jack would slide right in next to her, say hi all around, and get right into the flow. The drips would always try to keep up. Why, nobody knows. Did they both think they’d go home with her? Please. Neither of these guppies had a chance. They’d always try, but they had no clue. Talking football. So fucking dumb. Soon they’d be gone, as the talk they talked left them, and then the drips would shortly follow.

“How’s your night been?” Jack would ask her after they left.

And she’d always shrug. “Alright. I’m waiting for Mark right now.”

“I thought you dropped him.” He’d say.

And she’d get that impish trademark smile. “Not quite yet.”

He’d nod, and smile, and know she was off limits for just a little while longer. No worries. He could wait. It’s not like he’s hard up. So he’d sit and think her off limits and just talk.

Then Mark would arrive on the scene, and sit down, all chuckles and smiles, and he’d bring his friends with him. There’d be John, Beth, Sarah, and Sally, a new one that Jack had not seen before; young, young, young, and new in town. Long blond hair and a thing for black. Jack would turn on his smile for her right away. She was a nurse at the hospital, and her and Jack would talk, and laugh, and smile, and gradually move away from the rest of the crowd. And of course Jack would drive her home. As they left he’d catch Jenn’s eye across the room. He’d smile and wave, and she’d wave back, and give him that long look that he never understood.

Sally lived a trek away, and she would talk a lot as Jack drove. She was kind of a lightweight and the drinking made her open. Jack would go along, nothing that he wasn’t used to. They would get to her pad, and Jack would go up, and Sally would talk more, and Jack would listen more. But soon enough the talking was over, and Jack would be down on her, and she’d be moaning in dementia as the liquor and his tongue confused her. Then off to the bed, and off with the clothes, an hour or so of grunting and panting and then she’d be out like a light. Jack would rest next to her for a sec, watching her roll in her deep sleep.

Then off to home, a little tube, a drink of water, and then off to his own bed. Where Jack would dream this:

My room is dark. The shadows are so deep they must be holes in the walls. Things crawl around in there. My bed is funny. Too high. Why is my bed this high off the ground? And against this wall? This isn’t my room. But it is. I know these walls are mine. But they are wrong. Dreaming. I’m dreaming again. Dreaming I’m in my room. Funny dream. Silly. Dreaming I’m in my own room. I’m here. But I’m dreaming I’m here too. Silly.

Then that feeling on my chest again that I can’t move and that whisper in the ears and I can’t move turn away close my eyes it has me what is it I don’t know I twitch my finger it feels like lead all my strength needed to twitch it back and forth and that is all I can do can’t close my eyes I see the things floating above me those shapes that are above me that float are mean and nasty ugly terrible can’t scream say anything I can’t move I see them floating above me reaching out to touch me on the chest and that whispering in my ear no words just sounds and I can hear it what is it saying? Jack Jack Jack Jack Jack over and over and over again soft dark woman voice in my ear but no one there mean nasty scared scared scared I can’t wake up I am scared-

Jack would come out of it, still in bed, the lights out, petrified in that state before you realize you were asleep and aren’t anymore. He’d breath in deep and long and hard, as his eyes were still out to the world. But they’d adjust, and he’d see his room, back as it should be, walls all normal and bed at the normal height.

Only a dream, he’d say to himself. Just a bad dream. Get calm, get level, relax, go back to sleep. Sleep. Early day tomorrow, you need your beauty rest. Roll over and go back to sleep.

And so Jack would, after a while. Oh, Jack would never be able to go right back to sleep. Every bump and groan in the pad would make him jump again. But he’d manage, after a time, say about four or so. Then it was jump up at seven thirty, an hour late to start with, so outta bed and up, a little groggy, but okay. Skip the morning exercise, just this once, and he’d be back on track. And a little nap after work was just what he needed, he’d think, to make up for what he lost.

So he’d get all clean and pretty and out the door, and he would never think of the dream again.

Not till a few nights later, after a roll in the hay with Betty, a new girl at work, ginger all over, back at his pad after hours. She was with him on the new Anderson account. Normally he was strict with himself about not dipping into the ol’ company inkwell, but he could never say no to freckles. So in and out and in and out, and she’d split to let him sleep, with lovey-dovey words and a big fat kiss (silly farm girl). After leaving her sign in at the guest book, and him making something up about calling her, he’d be fast gone in slumber-lumber land, dreaming this:

The hallway is my mine, I walk down the sideways hallway, leaning to the side, looking for my room. Smells in here. And I am so heavy. Heavy I mean tired. I mean heavy. Same thing.

My door is all black. Number is black too. Closed. Unlock it with the key in my hand, and walk through the door. Slams after me. Bedroom’s dark. Bed is all spikes. Black spikes. Black blood on black spikes. Everything’s black. And moving. Things are floating around, reaching for me. I dodge them. They stink like snow. Reaching for me.

Onto my bed on my belly on bed on spikes on bed can’t move can’t breathe suffocating not breathing well not suffocating but scared oh so scared can’t move can’t do anything that whisper again in my ear Jack Jack Jack Jack in my ear from that voice that woman I am dreaming but she’s here and I am here can’t wake up can’t move can’t speak talk yell scream only whimper whimper whimper and I do and I hear her in my ear and I know her know her Millie haunting me Millie haunting me Millie on my back in my ear whispering Jack Jack Jack Jack she licks my ear and I curdle and want to scream but can only whimper whimper whimper stop it stop it stop it Millie-

And here good old Jack would come up for air, back in his room, dark and closed off, petrified, still mumbling her name as he woke up. Really, so unpretty and unJack-like to be whimpering and scared like that. All sweaty and smelly, which Jack simply never was.

And he’d stay up like that the rest of the night, alone in the room, trying to get the courage to reach for the light just a few scant inches to his right. As long as he didn’t move, he’d think, they wouldn’t jump at him. One of those survival instincts from childhood. He’d feel a little foolish about it, but hey, just in case, you know?

So he would stay up until that fat old sun came peeking over the buildings, making all the ghoulies go away. Only then Jack would fall out again, too weak to stay aware, getting that crucial deuce before the alarm went off.

Jack would swagger into work, fashionably late, all messed up and tired. He looked good, goes without saying, Jack always looked good, even with that slurred speech, the five o’ clock, and the eye baggage. Still good, as always. Good and worn.

He’d go right into work, half there and half not, trying as much as he could to do what he did as he always did. And he would be in his stuff, working so hard at his desk that he wouldn’t even see the ginger thing that was standing over him, waiting for his eyes.

“You really get into your work,” she’d say when he does look up.

“Hi,” he’d say back, trying to come out of work phase to see who it was. “Sorry, I’m a bit out of it. I didn’t sleep so well last night.”

“I know that,” she’d say in a lower voice.

“I mean after that,” he’d say back, trying to smile, making a total mess of it.

“Oh.” She’d rest her nice rump on the side of his desk. “Well, I just thought you might like to get lunch. You know, someplace nearby.”

“I’d like to,” he’d try to say it casual-like, but as tired as he was it would look more dazed and stoned than casual, “But I’m really behind on this work, I haven’t been getting too far today. But give me a ring tonight, and maybe we can get some dinner on Friday, Kelly.”

“Betty.” The words were as flat as a table out of her lips.

“Betty,” he’d say as he’d duck the blast too late. “Betty, right. I knew that. Look, I’m sorry, I have so many things on my mind right now, I don’t know what I was thinking. Kelly’s my mother’s name.”

He’d know the save was bad, but he was out of gas and tried it anyway. It threw her at least. Jack would know he’d have to talk quick and get her away before he took any more damage.

“Betty,” He’d say, stressing her handle. “I’m just so tired I can’t think straight right now. I have this report all over me and I just can’t have lunch today. Just give me a call tonight, okay? We’ll make plans.”

“All right,” she’d get up, getting away from him like a car wreck. “I’ll call you tonight, maybe we can go and do something. I’ll talk to you later.” And she would rush away from his desk, leaving him kicking himself.

The oldest fuck-up in the book, the name mixup. That was so unlike Jack. So many names to keep straight, sure–friends, acquaintances, co-workers. But he never got the Jerrys and the Joes, the Bettys and the Kellys, screwed up. He always kept them straight. It was one his talents. But hell, there was always the first time for everything.

#

Of course Betty would never call. Big shock there. She’d work along till the Anderson gig was done, only talking when needed, and never letting him even try to start fresh. So touchy, Jack thought. After Anderson was put to bed she’d never even look at him at work anymore. Wouldn’t say hi as they passed each other or anything, and he’d swear he’d catch her talking with the others about him when he’d turn quickly. But he could never tell, as he was too tired to be sure about much these days. Wasn’t sleeping well a’tall.

He’d never let that get to him. He would shrug and grumble a little, and then off to the Blessed, another of his familiars that night. Not part of the normal routine this weekday stuff, though it seemed like it was becoming that now. But hell, he’d need more relaxation time these days with all the stress he was feeling. So he’d sit and chill, maybe get a bit more sloshy than the usual, but not out of bounds too much. It wasn’t as if Jack wouldn’t realize the girl with no tits but a great ass he was talking to was sixteen. If that. He’d know.

“What do you do?” he’d ask her, already forgetting her name.

“I model.” she’d say.

He’d smile at that line. “Really? What a great line of work. You been on anything I’ve seen?”

She’d shirk at that, thinking she’d been caught. “Probably not.”

But he’d put her at ease right away, letting her think that he believed her. No point in calling her bluff. If she wanted to be a model, instead of some screwed up kid who snuck into the bar to play in the grownup games, let her. Made no difference to him.

And so he’d let her wax her fanciful little bull all night long, getting so intoxicated that she’d barely stay on the stool. It’d be kinda hilarious to Jack, listening to it, getting a handle on her naive world view, seeing just how out of her depth she was.

She’d get sober fast when he’d take her back to his place, though. On the ride she would suddenly get all quiet, and look at him with those deer in the headlights eyes. She’d be all nervous because this was a big thing to her, a momentous occasion, and her little act melted away under the weight of it. But for Jack it’d just be Tuesday.

In his bed she barely moved, and Jack would have to do everything, which would be a hassle, a total dead fish this one, but Jack would go with it. These young ones always had to be shown what to do. She wouldn’t look at him as he pushed into her, and apart from stifled yelps wouldn’t make a sound. After she’d grab her things and sneak out when he’d hit the bathroom. Which was fine by him. Saved him having to make up some reason for her to take off or just telling her to scram. At least she figured that out on her own. Welcome to adulthood.

And then soberer, slowly coming down, he’d catch some Fallon, and off to bed, and right away he’d dream this:

Stomping on the little people stomping on the little people all around the town I jump and club and stomp on the little people little ants all over the floor running screaming from my two big feet big man I am big man I am little things with their little bitches stomping them into dirt fun little game it is I play all the time. Can’t touch me can’t touch me I am big boy now

And then I can’t move trapped big rock on me being crushing no strength no feeling I’m weak can’t move can’t see can’t cry scared to death now what is this that woman again Jack Jack Jack in my ear again she licks my ear her tongue stings me cold cold cold tongue in my ear speaking Jack Jack Jack and now she bites my my ear it HURTS!!! Hurts so bad the blood is in my ear and she sips it out as she BITES my ear again cannot not scream I am scared who are you? Who are you? Millie get off me get off me help someone help Mommy Daddy help me-

“Jack Jack Jack, pretty boy Jack…” Sipping more blood, Slllrrrrpppp………

And that would be just too much for him. He’d bolt upright, screaming, tears streaming down his face, a real bonafide horror show. He’d remember it so clearly, and feel the pain on his earlobe still. There wouldn’t be a scar or bite, or any blood, but boy oh boy, would it still hurt.

It wouldn’t even be a question of getting back to sleep now. He’d only have had about twenty minutes, that bit of nastiness being one of the opening acts, but there was no way in hell he’d want back in there. So he’d get a book and try to calm himself down from that terror high. It would never work, though. He’d found all the books in his house boring; he had never actually read any of them, they just were something for the shelves to fill out his living room. Ol’ Jack was never much of a reader.

But even as bad as the reading was, he’d never go back to beddy-bye. He’d nod, start to doze off, but snap back up as his waking mind knew what waited over on the other side. Couldn’t get that ghastly freakshow girl out of his head.

Soon the sun would peek at him through the window, and Jack would get up. With a head like a brick. All that liquor the night before along with trauma was just a bad mix. But he’d have to get through today. Can’t call in sick now. Too many ladders left to climb. So he’d take some of those funny pills that some girl a few months ago had left in his care and felt it hit him as he’d chug his coffee. And suddenly everything would be back to hype. Though still a bit woozy. He’d stumble through a shower, do what he could about that nasty face in the mirror, and slog his way out to work. Right as rain he ain’t, but as good as it was gonna get.

Jack would sneak in, just barely missing being slightly late, crash more than sit behind his desk in his chair, and start his professional day. And like a bolt of lightning get nowhere with it. Everything was too weird. Hazy, like a cheap noir flick. The pills would make the world go slow, and give him just oodles of energy, but he’d have no thinking ability to speak of. He’d work fast, and get stuff done quick, but then his mind would break through from its daze and see that he’d fucked up something serious and then he’d have to go back and start over. He ran around that silly circle all day long, the pills keeping him up but stupid. Just no winning with these chemicals.

But he’d manage through the day, all the hassles of his mistakes, working through lunch again, and all the looks from Betty and her circle at the watercooler. He’d feel low, even as the drugs would not let go. And even though he felt like such utter shit, and knew he didn’t look much better, he’d decide a few at the Bean Ball, a nice happy hour sports bar-type place downstairs, just for a few, not too much, work the next day and all, was just what he’d need. Just for a few to nurse and relax with after a bad day.

So at a little after five, there he’d sit with his drink in his hand in the joint relaxing. Relaxing too much, though. And for too long. The sun would be set a long time when he’d first notice it wasn’t outside anymore. And he wouldn’t have eaten all day, and he’d be real tired as the pills were all off now, and well, what can you do, he’d be plastered. He’d weave at the bar, spilling his drink all over his hand, and talking to anyone.

“Are you here by yourself?” he’d ask the brunette who came up next to him.

“No.” She’d smile at him patiently.

“I am. My name is Jack.” He’d hold out his hand for her, weaving as he did so.

She’d look away, not taking it.

“No need to be so mean,” he’d say to her.

“What?”

“I was just being friendly, you’re not supposed to think anything of it.”

“I’m not supposed to?”

And Jack would retreat. “I just mean that you’re not supposed to be so suspicious, that’s all. Gotta trust people in this world.”

She’d roll her eyes and wouldn’t say a word as she did that clockwork walk away from him, two drinks in hand.

And Jack would turn back on his drink, mumbling ‘you can’t win ’em all’, or ‘there’s a stuck up one’, or one of the other millions of things said to put the flames out. He would never see the big guy come up from behind.

“Hey buddy,” The voice would boom behind him. “You got a problem?”

Jack would turn and see that hulk of a guy, first at his eye level/ the big guy’s chest, and then up Jack’s red eyes would go, onto the thick face with a low brow and flaring nostrils.

“You got a thing for harassing women?” he’d say to Jack.

Jack would try to wave him off with his drink hand, splashing cocktail on the guy’s shirt. “Ease off there, Thor-“

That would be all Jack would get out, as the big guy would clobber down on him. Jack would see stars, lots of them all over the room, as the world would seem to swing around as if he was on a trapeze with a really weird trajectory. And more stars again out in the street where he’d get tossed, skidding along on his face. Finally Jack would be at rest, his head throbbing, and blood from the gash in his cheek smeared all over. He’d try to get up and find his legs, but they’d fail him, and everyone was giving him a super wide berth as they passed by.

He’d manage to crawl off to his car, eventually, and climb into the driver’s seat. He’d give up on his key in the ignition after a few minutes, and just rest there in the car instead, going out like a light.

And no dreams now. Too drunk to dream. He’d skip right past the sleep state and go right to unconscious–do not pass go, do not collect the cash. That’s dangerous, sure, sleeping after a big head knock, never mind the three or four he’d gotten, but he was in no condition to think about that. And the garage was empty so nobody else would care. So Jack would just crash there with the birds circling around his head and hopefully come to tomorrow.

And he would wake up, which was lucky. He would still be very late for work, but better than never. He’d groan right out of the gate, with dried blood on his face and on his clothes, and a brain that felt at least two minutes behind his skull every time he moved.

Jack would also be lucky that he kept some civvies in his trunk, and lucky that it was casual Friday. Just another way for the man to show their love for the cogs. So he’d grab that stuff, every move hurting his head among other body parts, and stumble into a bathroom in the lobby, where he’d take a quick stock of things. And it was a pretty sorry stock, no two ways about it. Nasty gash right across his cheek–likely soon to be a nasty scar. Black eye, chipped front tooth, still raw nasal passages covered with dried blood in and out. Nasty, nasty, nasty, and very far from pretty. Little he could do about it now.

So he’d wash the blood out, careful not to start the gash flowing again, and do the best he could with sink and towels. He’d change his clothes, look at what he’d managed, and slowly shake his head. Hafta do for now. Maybe today he would bow out early. But he at least had to make a show.

So he’d stumble still hurting into work, mumbling something about being mugged to the gaping receptionist, repeating the story every time someone asked and with the same avoidance of talking more than he needed. He’d make it to his desk, and sitting heavy as concrete, try to get through something, but it really was no good. He’d feel worse than shit ever felt even on its very worst day. He’d know he should go home, but not with that many rungs in the ladder still above him would he really do that. No, not Jack, never one to admit weakness. He’d stay and try, giving that good old effort that people always said was important, even when it was obvious that he wasn’t there.

Jack would look up and see good old Betty what’s her name standing nearby with the new girl with the wonder pillows and the butterface. And she’d be looking right at Jack, saying something. That new one would look his way too, and Jack would know that look so well, that one like looking at a smelly leper. He’d done it enough himself to know what that meant.

He wouldn’t take that. Not today. So he’d go up to go over there, to defend himself, give his side while he thought it might make a difference. After all, it was Betty that didn’t call him, just because of some silly little slight. She had ghosted him, not the other way round. That’s all he’d mean to do.

But somehow, it just would never come out like that. Nasty things would come out instead. Things that he never said, ugly things with even uglier words, and shouting and yelling and all. Soon the new girl would retreat to a phone to call security, but Jack wouldn’t even care anymore. All he’d want to do was keep going, call Betty every ugly word he knew of that he hadn’t got to yet, God it’d feel so good. And Betty’d run off crying, not being able to take the kind of abuse that she’d only heard about before. And after she split, Jack would have the attention of the whole office, as he stood there shaking, still in an angry daze.

Jack would be out of that scene quick. No point in waiting for fat boys in uniforms with those stupid plastic badges. There’d be nothing left for him there.

But what the hell, Jack would say, better off without the corporate prison. So there Jack would be, in his car, driving back home, stuck at a light, psyching himself up against his still throbbing head, as his hands would clench the wheel tighter and tighter.

#

News of his blow up would make the rounds at places faster than he could get interviews. It’d surprise him how quickly it made it from one place to another. After a few months he wouldn’t even bother job hunting anymore. He’d never be up for it. Always too tired. Or too drunk.

Money would be tight. There was unemployment, that’d keep him going, and after that ran out, his account was fat, and he could get by on it for a while. By then something else would come up. He would hope.

So Jack would tighten up that belt to stretch it even further. He’d stop buying the nice clothes, sell the car, a few others things. He’d stop eating out most nights, make due with pasta more often, tip less when he would eat out, and go to cheaper bars.

Like Sals’, a dive that he would not have been caught dead walking past before, let alone frequenting. The kind of place where the drunks outnumbered the people. Where the dealers felt going to the bathroom to sell was just too much of a hassle to bother getting up from their table. He’d drink there now, because the shit that passed for drinks was good and cheap. And even though he was down on it right now, he’d still be good enough to get some action most nights. Better than most others there. Or at least not as far down the road.

She would try to hide her age, dressing younger, caking that makeup on heavy, but it just made her look sad. She was WAY out of her league trying to make it with him. But Jack would be all right with it, even though she smelled from all the wrong places. And it wouldn’t be because of beer goggles–those things were a myth, really. He’d know damn well how low she was. He just wouldn’t give a shit.

So he’d nail her, and good. Grunting and panting in her backseat, fogged windows and all. A real immature scene. It’d remind him of high school. But he wouldn’t want her over his place, and he definitely wouldn’t want to see what kind of mess she came from.

And then after his nut, off he’d go, wandering away from the car, leaving her in some kind of happy glow, almost forgetting to say bye. Then back home, and he’d shower long and good, getting the geriatric stench and random bleached but really gray hairs off of him.

He wouldn’t even try to sleep. Not until he had some more to drink. A bottle more and he would just fall over. He’d have figured out the way to avoid that nasty woman was to drink himself silly instead of sleeping. If he didn’t dream, he couldn’t see her. And drinking himself unconscious was the best way to that.

Or sometimes he would just stay up, taking those pills that he still had. Staying up to do something, anything, read another bad book, walk the city, find a hooker, anything, but usually just going stir crazy, walking in circles in his apartment.

Nobody seemed to miss him. He’d figure all the other up and comers (that he still for some reason thought he was one of) had forgotten him altogether. Just another out of circulation boy. They’d see him or they wouldn’t, and they wouldn’t lose much sleep about it either way. Plenty more of him around. He was one of God’s favorite molds.

So he would be so surprised when Jenn would show up one night. He’d open the door, and there she’d be, looking cautiously in and dressed all pretty as he remembered he once was. He’d let her in, waving with the half empty vodka fifth, and she’d be all worried about him and repulsed at the same time, and she’d walk so slowly and in such a wide arc around him. She didn’t want to touch anything in there. Jack would make no trip about it. He was as friendly as he could be.

“Are you all right?” she’d ask him after the banal words were spent.

“Oh, fine,” he’d sweep with his hand. “Just fine. Just had some change in lifestyle recently, is all. Temporary.”

And she’d move in so much closer now, and put her hand on his arm. “Jack, please tell me what’s wrong. I’m your friend, we’ve been close for too long for you to lie to me.”

And Jack would move in, too buzzed and too tired to hide his ogling eyes. “Maybe I just need to be loved.” He’d say. “Maybe that would make her go away.”

“Who?” Jenn would say, lifting his chin to get his eyes of her chest. “Make who go away?”

He’d swim in her hand and nearly fall down as he spoke. “Millie.”

“Who’s Millie?”

And Jack would shrug. Then he’d rub his hand clumsily along her face. “Ah, Jenn, you’re always the good one. One in a million.”

Jenn would brush his hand away. “We’re talking Jack.” She’d say firmly.

Jack’s hand would just go back. “Don’t wanna talk.”

She’d reach for it again, but she wouldn’t be able to move it away this time. It’d be too firm. Just as he would be. And Jenn would tense, up against the wall, suddenly very scared.

Jack would tell himself it was just her passion. He wouldn’t bother to look at her face, or hear what she mumbled as he took her clothes off. And he wouldn’t kiss her. He wouldn’t feel like kissing her.

And then after Jenn had left crying, her stockings, bra, and panties in a bundle under her arm, old Jack would feel rather good about himself. Still an up and comer, he’d think, getting the good stuff, the high-quality lookers like Jenn. Wasn’t as good as he remembered, he’d think, but anybody could have an off night. Next time she came around it’d be better. Always good tail out there for a good up and comer like Jack.

Jack would feel all nice and warm, with just a teeny weeny boost to his confidence. And that is probably why he’d make that boo-boo that he definitely shouldn’t do. He’d be drunk, but not that drunk, and sobering by the moment, so when he’d fall asleep, oh horror of horrors, he wouldn’t be drunk enough to avoid this:

Here I am again what am I doing here I shouldn’t be here I got to wake up before its too late, this is bad real bad real real bad gotta wake up soon before she comes and gets me still can move one arm other arm both legs my head gotta wake up now drink more this is a dream and I don’t want to dream bad idea bad idea wake up

On my belly and I can’t move and I can’t breath heavy weight on my back hear the slithering sound again she’s here something’s here gotta move concentrate on moving gotta get up move my arm so heavy but its moving press against the bed lift myself lift myself LIFT MYSELF on my back on my back now can see so I can see her see what is going on-

And there she is demon screaming white dress flowing wedding dress screaming pale skin she’s dead screaming black hair white streak Frankenstein’s bride screaming at me eyes are black screaming at me lips are blood red screaming at me her head is back and forth back and forth at me SCREAMING AT ME horrible sound SCREAMING AT ME demon on my belly.

WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP I can’t WAKE UP I don’t want this I need to WAKE UP I need to get away WAKE UP I can’t WAKE UP God help me Mommy Daddy HELP ME!!!!

She’s drooling on me my face my eyes blood dripping from her lips drool blood on my face can’t move can’t scream can’t WAKE UP she’s drooling on me help me somebody something anybody anything help me GET HER OFF ME!!!

“Pretty boy, Jack.” Blood drool blood drool drip drip drip…

Who are you what are you Millie who are you Millie get off me what do you want from me Millie GET OFF ME Millie LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

“Jack Jack Jack,” drool blood blood. “Mine Jack, mine forever and ever and ever. Can’t escape me Jack. Jack Jack Jack. Mine forever.”

Leave me alone leave me alone leave me alone get away from me away from me Mommy Daddy Jenn help me Jenn help me Jenn help me get her off me

Drool drool blood. “Jack Jack Jack, mine forever Jack.”

No no no not me no no no not me no no no not me no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“I loooove you Jack.”

And that would just be way too much for poor old Jack. Screaming and clawing as he scraped his way out of that one. But you’d only think he was out of it when he woke because that’s how dreams are supposed to work. You leave them behind when you wake up. You couldn’t tell that from how poor old Jack would carry on though.

He’d run around in circles, he’d yell, jump at every sound, and act like a real freak show nutcase. He’d scream her name over and over–man, would he be in bad shape. Can’t escape her, he’d think, she’ll get me every time. Every beddy-bye that he couldn’t avoid, she’d be there. Every time.

So what could he do? Well, the only thing left. Jack would take those funny pills that some girl had left with him, not a full bottle by now, but what was left was plenty, and he’d swallow them all, laughing the whole time. Outsmarting demons had a way of making someone feel good. And Jack would feel great. It was so simple, just jump into that oblivion and all would be better. He’d sit back and laugh and laugh and laugh, as his heart would start to race and get bulgy in his chest, and things got so blurry and funny. Wasn’t the best way to go, but it was a way. Don’t complain about the ride if the place you’re leaving sucks.

And ol’ Jack, sweaty and weak in hyper chemical activity, would just barely be still with us when the cops came busting through the door and found him.

#

Poor old Jack. Poor mistreated, haunted Jack. He’d never quite make it to oblivion. Paramedics would arrive just in time to start fixing Jack up, not even trying to find out if he wanted to be fixed up first. Civil servants can be so rude sometimes.

So Jack is this guy. Jack is five feet eleven inches tall, a very skinny one forty, with brown eyes under those closed lids, dirty and knotted brown hair, stretched and scarred skin that covered once fine, noble features, who was in a coma that the doctors didn’t know if he’d ever come out of. They wouldn’t be able to pull the plug, though, his brain would be too active to do that nice and legal. A real sharp coma patient he’d be. His brain would have the same amount of activity that a normal brain had. When sleeping. Dreaming.

He’d moan at night. Especially on the darker nights. A low, painful sounding thing. Nobody paid it much mind. Whenever poor old comatose Jack would start in with those low and guttural sounds of torture, the nurse, the one with blond hair and a thing for black in her off hours, would just close the door, looking in and wondering why he looked so familiar.

And in that way, poor old Jack and his little hell would never bother anyone else ever again.

–END–

A.T. Sayre, author.

A.T. Sayre has been writing in some form or other ever since he was ten years old. From plays to poems, teleplays to comic books, he has tried his hand at pretty much every medium imaginable. His work has previously appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and StarShipSofa. A more detailed list of his publications can be found at www.atsayre.com/fiction Born in Kansas City, raised in New Hampshire, he lives in Brooklyn and likes to read in coffeehouses.