It’s the Fourth of July and while it doesn’t really mean much of anything to me, it means something to Americans! So happy Fourth of July to all American readers! (Are you supposed to capitalise the word Fourth? Cos it’s the name of a holiday? Or just leave it regular cos it’s the date?)
Also, why is it called the Fourth of July, surely it should be July Fourth based on your dating system?
Either way, hope it’s a good day for you and your loved ones! (I’m ambivalent as to how it treats your enemies)
This is it.
He looked out the window at the garden, once so lush and full of life. Now everything was dead or dying. Large patches of dirt broke up the tiny islands of brown grass, skeletal bushes lined the walls, dead sentinels. Flowers, once so bright and cheery were brown and drooping. He sighed, then stepped away from the window unable to look at it anymore. Before he had stood at the window, just looking at the garden, watching as birds hopped through the branches, as they bathed in the birdbath. Now it was empty, devoid of any water, standing lonely and broken in the centre of the garden. He hadn’t seen any birds in a while, he wondered if they still existed. He wondered if the world existed. After all, he was living in a nightmare. It began weeks, maybe months ago. One day he went to bed and everything was normal and when he woke, everything had changed. When he fell asleep he was sharing the bed with his wife, when he woke, she was gone, as were the kids. The house was empty, outside the world was barren. There was no one, only him. He had searched frantically for any signs of his family, for signs of anyone at all, but he found none. The first few days he tried to leave, but he couldn’t. He could leave the house, he could even get to the end of the road, but he could go no further. He could see it but he couldn’t reach it. It was as though once he reached a certain point his steps would bring him no closer. The trees that lined the road were dead, cars sat on deflated tires, where once gleamed was now rusted, windows were shattered.
He had walked up and down the road, past the barren gardens and empty houses, calling out for someone, anyone, but the only sound he ever heard were his screams, bouncing off the houses, echoing back and forth. He had tried banging on the doors of the houses, but no one answered, he tried breaking the windows, but they were unbreakable. Rocks bounced off, his fists felt as though they were hitting solid steel. He looked inside the houses and he could see sitting rooms, halls, but something was off. Something about them wasn’t right. It took him almost a week to realise it. In every window was the same sitting room, the same hall. They never changed. He was alone in this strange new world, a world where things repeated and invisible barriers corralled him. The sun never seemed to shine, the sky was always concealed by low, grey clouds, ominous and angry looking. It never rained, nor did the wind blow. Everything was still, everything was silent. He spent days trying to leave the area, but it never worked. He could only get so far before he stopped moving, he walked and walked and walked, but still he stayed in the same place.
He returned to his own home eventually, it seemed it was the only place he could freely roam. Everything was the same there, nothing changed, he had access to everything and everywhere. It was still his domain. There was food and water there too. He tried the kitchen tap, but the water that gurgled from it was dark brown, almost black and had a rank smell. He tried the water from his fridge and that came out clear and cool. It was always his favourite water. There was no smell off it, at first he figured it was just the tank in the fridge, it hadn’t been tainted yet, but the supply of clean water seemed endless. Same with the food. He could eat and eat and eat and he never seemed to make a dent in the supplies he had. The fridge had food too, though not much. There were some strawberries that seemed to come from a bottomless bowl and a few meats that never seemed to spoil. The electricity still worked, so he was able to cook meals. It was eerie at night, when the street lights flickered, then finally came to life, casting everything in yellow shadows. Sometimes he thought he could see things moving out there, just beyond his realm, in the vague lamp light, but they were just shifting shadows. Weren’t they?
He hadn’t showered since he came to this place, his body didn’t seem to need it, his hair never became greasy, his body never smelled. He had tried, but the water that came from the shower was also dirty. He figured out he was in a nightmare a few days before, while preparing food the knife slipped and cut him rather than the onion, at first there was the automatic shock, he pulled his hand away, hissing and trying to shake the pain away. It took him a few seconds to realise there was no pain. Dark drops of blood dripped steadily from his hand, but it did not hurt. He rinsed it off with some clean water and put a plaster on it. He forgot about it for a few hours and when he glanced at his hand the plaster and wound had disappeared. It was the only explanation. He was stuck in a dream world, one where he could only go so far. Everyone knew you couldn’t feel pain in a dream. It just made sense. What other explanation could there be?
Every day was the same, wake up, eat, wander around the street, try to find a way out. Some days he went into a kind of fugue, he would sit and forget what he was doing, forget everything, even the dream. Sometimes he would snap out of it quickly, other times it could last hours. He could sit and stare at nothing for hours and had done so many times. He had tried to escape, but the attempts were getting less and less. With his most recent one, he tried to burn down the house. The fire caught and things were burning merrily. He didn’t stop to think what might happen if he too was caught in the flames. They revitalised him, gave him some vitality, the raw power, the heat, the light, the flames were alluring. They were his way out. The small area seemed to fill with smoke quickly, rather than raising in a giant column in the night sky, it seemed to reach a ceiling and spread outwards, filling his world. It burned his eyes and lungs, snaking its way down, making it difficult to breathe. He felt sleepy, so sleepy and tired. It wasn’t long before he collapsed. When he came too he was lying in his own bed again, the house perfectly fine and undamaged. There was no way out, no escape. He was going to be here forever.
The days passed, some quickly, some slowly, but each one the same. At first the monotony was kind of welcoming, like a warm blanket, but then the fear came. This is all he knew, all he remembered, what if this was his life? His entire life and what was before was the dream? What if this was how it always was? How it always would be?
What if this was it?