TOENAIL FUNGUS IS A SIGN OF POOR OVERALL HEALTH. THE HUMAN HEAD REMAINS CONSCIOUS FOR UP TO 20 SECONDS AFTER DECAPITATION. THE ELECTRIC CHAIR WAS INVENTED BY A DENTIST. OVERTON BRIDGE IS A CROSSING POINT. She would distract herself with random thoughts when the bottom of her throat started to feel tight and heavy. When her heart felt caged in her chest and her lungs forgot what to do with air. When a prickle of unexplained fear threatened to tear down the thin barrier between sanity and hysteria… But this was only on the days she woke up to life. She went through most days without thinking at all. The absence of thought enabled her to stay numb to a paltry existence. Eight-hour work days filled with greasy plates of food, overweight and impatient customers, and sloppy leftovers. Day after day of scurrying back and forth to the kitchen, handing out and picking up menus, taking orders and dropping off tickets. The other, almost always younger, employees felt sorry for her and weren’t sure how to act. She felt their sympathy and there were brief moments were it annoyed her, but most of the time she simply sighed to herself and thought about how much they had yet to see. About how many of them might easily end up in a similar place. She had told herself years ago that it was all temporary. The job for which she was grossly over-qualified. The home that wasn’t really a home. A means to an end. Just until she got her feet on the ground. And many other cliché excuses for ignoring the unsettling feeling that apathy was already stifling aspiration and passion. It was the first sign she had given up. The beginning of retreat in the war against despondency. She had let this life slowly welded to her until it was indistinguishable from her character. Until it was a tattoo she wore and accepted as a part of herself.As dull as work was, at least it was life in motion. Home had the eerie stillness of a wax museum. The half-basement studio apartment was dark, musty and -worst of all - quiet. The two-story house under which she lived was one of many houses embedded into a small, but steep, ravine off Louisville Street. The majority of rooms for 2121 Louisville Street sat on top, facing the road. A small study was left to awkwardly hang, as if someone had kicked the dirt and grass out from underneath in a failed attempt at modern, Cliffside architecture. Essentially, Jan’s portion of the house was hollowed-out hill. Mainly comprised of concrete, only one wall was exposed to the elements. However, Mother Nature was not easily put off and had made her mark before storm drains were added to the house. Water stains decorated the concrete walls and Jan had recently noticed stealthy hairline cracks reaching out from at least a dozen places along the west and north walls. The exterior portion faced east and allowed her one long, but very narrow, window. As studio apartments went, it was of good size and provided ample space for sectioning a separate living area. Instead, her bed backed up to the west wall, in perfect alignment with the lone window. To the casual observer it was a strange arrangement. The kitchenette was along the south wall and this put the bed about three feet from her cabinets, sink, mini fridge, microwave and stove top – with her night stand pairing as an end table for the loveseat on her left. Her bed was placed here because Jan spent most of her time sunk in the middle of it, deeply burrowed under covers and pillows whenever the weather allowed, staring at the window. Sometimes the distance noise of a car passing pushed itself through the window and she would amuse herself by imagining the lives of the people in them and where they were going. This was a dangerous game. Thoughts of a world she couldn’t seem to feel a part of became the reality that slapped her into conscious living. No place for her in life, yet she craved the possible too much to be the cause of its end. This is when she felt like a freelance drone, like a worker bee without a queen or an ant without a colony. When she agonized over each life she would never live. Each experience she would never have. When she started to choke on her own insignificance. When there was nothing that made her a part of, nor set her apart from, everyone else. CAFFEINE IS GOOD FOR THE COLON. FASHION IS ARBITRARY. THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF SAMUEL CLEMENS IS TIED TO HALLEY’S COMET. WHEN A PERSON DIES, HEARING IS GENERALLY THE LAST SENSE TO GO. EARLY CHRISTIAN GNOSTIC SECTS PROFESSED REINCARNATION. The more random the thought, the less likely another person was thinking it at that same moment.Sleep was her drug of choice. If it was possible to sleep through the rest of her live, she would have unapologetically left this despondent state of consciousness. She went to sleep easily, slept hard and for as long as possible – sometimes skipping meals in exchange for a few more minutes of comfortable escape. Tonight she lay with just the corner of a sheet over the middle of her 6’4” body, two feet of grey-blond hair fanned out over pillows and her arms stretched out at her sides. The ceiling fan shook from side to side with the intensity of its own strength. Even her cave of a home sometimes fell victim to the summer heat in Texas. It was hard to make herself comfortable while oppressed by the heavy film of damp air. There would be no retreat under pillows and blankets tonight. Rent was all-utilities paid and her penny-pinching landlady – Mattie, who lived upstairs and controlled the thermostat - would rather die of heat exhaustion than add one cent to the electricity bill. She might have been able to talk to her, but that would require effort and time away from sleep. It would not be a short conversation. Thankfully, Jan had long ago trained her mind to move past physical circumstance and through the door of lethargy to tense, albeit temporary, hibernation. Concentrating first on the circulation of air as it toyed with hairs on her uncovered skin, then the steady “dink-dink” of the ceiling fan chain swinging into the fixture, she closed her eyes and took her mind to the place where sleep could be found.She awoke with a shiver. The apartment seemed, if possible, quieter. She blinked a couple of times as the still blades of the ceiling fan came into focus. She shivered again. The temperature in the room had dropped. Reluctantly, she left what little warmth was trapped under the thin sheet in search of the blanket and comforter she had absentmindedly tossed aside before crawling into bed. Leaning half her body over the bed and walking along with her hands, she felt past the concrete floor and rug until she came to the pile of bedding. Grabbing a handful of the blanket, she sat up and started to pull it onto the bed - then froze. A soft, cold breeze advanced like a wave over her arms and slipped under the thin nightshirt, moving over the tiny hairs on her stomach, her breasts, over her back toward... something behind or above her…As if the fan was still on...But under her clothing…A barely audible sound over her left shoulder, an exhale of… breath? Her weighted limbs were far from numb, but she felt detached from them. Her hand started to cramp, but didn’t loosen its grip on the blanket. Something was waiting for her to turn around. The reluctant and abbreviated movements of her neck shifted her head left, to face what was behind. From the other side of the room, a trail of thin, white mist traveled from her shoulders to feed a dense cloud hanging over her antique rocking chair. The fog churned capriciously, moving within itself more than around the room. It seemed to have a pulse, pushing puffs of cold air toward her after each curl and release. As if her attention gave it life, these releases accelerated and took on the rhythmic sound of human panting. With her eyes stinging from the dryness of an unblinking stare, Jan watched the frosty vapor turn to milky swirls as it began to solidify and form the outline of a person. One by one, each tendril of haze carved out a detail before locking into place to sculpt the solid white figure of a tall woman with long hair. Severe in their contrast to a slight, hairpin mouth and deep-sloping nose, her large eyes remained closed. Jan’s terror rolled into a ball at the back of her throat and begged to be released, but she beat it down with a sharp intake of break and a dry swallow. SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE ME. As if in response, the doppelganger’s eyelids flew open to reveal empty black holes. The dark hollows seemed to absorb what little moonlight leaked through the thin window and the apartment felt much smaller and far darker. Coming at her in rapid-fire succession, Jan’s mind discharged and sifted through possible explanations. IF YOU STARE INTO DARKNESS LONG ENOUGH, YOUR EYES CAN EASILY TRICK YOU. I’M DREAMING.The white woman slowly shook her head from side to side.DID SHE JUST REACT…? The white woman slowly nodded her head.Jan’s thoughts stumbled on top of each other. NOT POSSIBLE. WHAT IS THIS THING? RUN FOR THE DOOR? IS THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING? SHOULD I? COULD I TALK… Sound broke through her thoughts. It came from inside her head, like she was listening to a playback of her own voice recording… HERE TO WARN YOU. A BEING ACKNOWLEDGED IS A BEING IN EXISTENCE. ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN AND YOU CAN FIND EXISTENZ. Jan focused her thoughts. YOU ARE IN MY HEAD? WHERE DO YOU COME FROM? I AM YOU. I AM THE AUTHOR. I CANNOT STAY IN THIS STORY. “I don’t understand.” The vibration of sound from the words leaving her lips came down on the silence like a hammer. The sonance broke the connection and now hung in the air as a barrier between them.The white woman leaned forward and moved her lips as if to speak. No sound. The lips parted further, until her mouth was as large as her eyes, and her brow furrowed. Her solid figure began to flicker with movement and a white hand reached out to Jan before dissolving into its original airy form. The mist floated toward Jan, fading the image as it pulled it apart. The break down of her doppelganger merged the expressionless holes to compose a deep well of sadness. An oubliette of frustration that was as large as her life and as sad. From somewhere other than her body came the scream she had earlier managed to control. A surge of icy gravity pushed Jan into the bed, its long fingers dug into her body and she felt the tingling of frost bite touch her heart. Her lungs. Her stomach. There was a euphoric moment where she felt separate from her body - yet acutely aware of everything past and present, like they were happening at the same time. The flavor of multiple lives – all her own? – were offered to her and she savored their sweetness like the last piece of Swiss chocolate melting on her tongue. She was a writer in Atlanta, an Olympic runner in France, a CEO in Texas, an environmentalist in Canada, a mother in Brazil, a junkie in California, a doctor in India, a lover in Russia, a billionaire’s wife in Japan, a lawyer in Germany, a sister in China, a small business owner in Africa, a widow in Mexico and much more. She tasted a moment in every life. Some were sour and some sweet. There was tang and zest alongside bitterness and drought. But it was all full of feeling. This was living. It was a part of every life she might have wanted. She allowed herself to feel happy just before it was all taken away. The chill faded and with it went the fullness, the energy and the excitement. She felt the pain of memories being cut out of her like a dull saw taking off her leg. Jan jerked upright in bed, gasping as if it was her first breath. Her nightshirt was saturated in sweat and clung to her back. She threw off the blanket and comforter and adjusted her position away from the damp part of the bed. She wasn’t used to waking up before her alarm went off. Out of habit, she took her body through assorted positions that had proved comfortable in the past. But her mind was no longer cooperating either. For the first time, she found sleep to be unrecoverable. It was unnatural. She was… hungry. Starving, actually. She surprised herself by leaving the bed to forage for food among the limited choices in her cabinets and fridge. A can of chicken and rice soup. A few cups of yogurt. Some sandwich meat and borderline-stale bread. Nothing even close to appetizing. STUFFY AS HELL IN THIS APARTMENT ANYWAY. She felt a wave of resolution crash into her arms as she pulled off her nightshirt and tossed it to the side with a flick of her wrist. She took a couple of steps to her closet and surveyed the contents. It had been so long since she had been anywhere outside of her apartment in something other than work clothes. She would even run errands before and after work, knowing once she stepped foot inside the house it would take an act of God to get her out again. WHAT DOES ONE WEAR TO THE CONVENIENCE STORE AT 3:41 A.M.? She snagged a pair of jeans and a fitted t-shirt, buttoning and tugging while searching for a pair of flip-flops she knew to be somewhere at the bottom of her closet. SHOULD PROBABLY BRUSH MY TEETH. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, appraising each portion of her face and figure on their own merit and then the overall effect of them joined together to form - me. She decided to start doing something with her hair. Her face looked so much longer when pulled back in a ponytail. Opening the door, she felt a tiny bit of anticipation. SILLY GIRL. YOU ARE JUST GOING TO THE GAS STATION. THIS IS NOT A MAJOR LIFE EVENT. ALTHOUGH… STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED. HAVEN’T THEY? She ignored this last thought before it fully formed, stepped out and turned to shut the door. Her eyes stared at the fan as the door closed. It was still. DIDN’T I HAVE THAT ON BEFORE I WENT TO BED? RIDICULOUS HAVING TO DEAL WITH THIS HEAT. TALKING TO MATTIE THIS MORNING.