Word Count: 500
Livin’ the Nightmare
Some people left and never returned.
Some people had to leave and come back again in order to discover who they really were.
Others never left at all.
Douglas had wanted, at an earlier stage, to be the first kind of person, but ended up being the third. At forty-nine, he didn’t know who he was. With the half-century milestone within sight, he worried that he’d never figure it out.
Did it matter? Maybe a tad. But only to him.
Douglas never married, had no children, no such relationship to create any. His parents were long gone. His only sibling—Bernice—also childless, waded into the rain-engorged river last spring and drowned. Neighbors might have recognized Douglas, but he rarely went out. And while he had created a relatively successful business empire, he remained a faceless, nameless entity, sheltering behind an on-line persona through which he bought and sold antiques.
Douglas’s home served as his warehouse, though his was strictly an on-line presence—no, he didn’t have a “shop”, he told buyers. No, he didn’t “do shows”. He and Bernice had grown up in this house. Three bedrooms, one bath, a one-stall garage and remains of his mother’s rose garden out back. Only the regular UPS guy and the kid who mowed actually knew him, for all that he’d lived there forty-nine years.
The antiques that were the basis of his business had belonged to his parents. He had since amassed an entire houseful.
Douglas, until that fateful day when Bernice had entered the torrential waters, had been anonymous. Resigned to his lot, he got along fine. Then Bernice had done that foolish thing. Now, dishes jumbled up the sink. Antiques threatened to suffocate Douglas. He was no longer getting along fine.
Sometimes, Douglas sat up half the night, the computer’s glow the only illumination of the room once inhabited by his parents. He’s transformed it into an office. Anyone peering in the window would have seen a haggard, middle-aged man, cheeks furrowed, great hollows cast around his eyes by the unnatural light, which also shone off the expanse of forehead unveiled by receding hairline. Surprisingly, his hair was unmarred by gray, his sallow, waxy skin ghostly by contrast.
Douglas told himself he stayed awake to track his e-bay auctions. But he was merely forestalling sleep, avoiding the nightmare that clutched him when he drifted off, just as Bernice had clutched at him by the water’s edge. Water. So innocuous, yet so powerful. The difference between tap-water and a raging river was like the difference between a Lionel caboose and a freight train. Poor Bernice, so foolish, attempting to leave.
Douglas had only wanted to show how dangerous the world could be. Now, in dreams, he saw her face, distorted by the water, melting, skin dripping, falling away, the bloated, grimacing skull, triumphant in its defeat, mocking Douglas.
Douglas, the quiet neighbor who never bothered anyone. He still didn’t know who he was. And neither did anyone else.