Word Count: 500
Please, Do Not Adjust Your Threat
Today had begun as most days did—quietly, cup of coffee in hand, Misha on his lap, newspaper open. But then, instead of sitting and reading, Carlton felt compelled to leave the house without combing his hair or even brushing his teeth. He had dumped the cat on the floor, the coffee into the sink, and left without shutting the door. Now, halfway down the block, the implicit threat tickled his subconscious. He hadn’t actually heard the words, “you will be the first to go” but he knew. The first to go. What did that mean, anyway? Go where? The moon? “Oblivion.” This unspoken knowledge came from seemingly nowhere. Carlton couldn’t have said how—perhaps something tugged his parietal lobe—or was it the occipital? He could never remember. At any rate, the disembodied voice that wasn’t a voice infused its thoughts into his thoughts.
The immediate effect was paranoia. Carlton stopped walking. Dead in his tracks. Had someone been following, sweat-stinking, tight-springed, fear-permeated Carlton and the other would have collided. He whirled, hoping to catch the culprit. Not even a squirrel was near. In fact, Carlton felt he might well be the last living being. Turning, he resumed walking. Five steps. Six. Again he heard, or more accurately, felt, the air of threat, of a lurking presence. It went beyond the sensation of being watched. This thing, whatever it was, infiltrated his mind by some serpentine force, snaking past his natural resistance. Speeding up, he darted left, then, without warning, broke right, but he sensed the whatever-it-was ran in sync, unperturbed by his maneuvers, like a shadow, anticipating every move. Defenses alert, he snapped around again, tripping on his own feet in a fancy fandango. This time, he felt the slightest touch against his cheek, like suede, momentarily dragging on his bristly stubble. The presence, though, had no physical form. He was sure of this now. And how do you outrun something like that?
Furtively, he slowed, side-stepping, pivoting, scanning the street, deserted but for one battered, rusty-white Chevette, so innocuous. Nobody behind bushes or peering between drapes. An unnatural glow seeping across the neighborhood lent a sense of suspended animation. Carlton was beginning to think he was in a fevered waking nightmare, when suddenly, a deafening buzz, like microphone feedback, shattered the air, bringing Carlton to his knees. Pressing hands to ears, like a vise holding a block of wood, eyes squeezed shut, face contorted, he screamed for it to stop. Whatever it was responded to his plea.
He opened his eyes to a gray vista, vertical and horizontal holds misaligned. The entire episode smacked of an Outer Limits moment: vision and brain processes blurred by unseen forces, the way the Control Voice manipulated the television.
Inexplicably Carlton was in his kitchen. Misha hopped to the table and hissed.
“May I help you?” asked the stranger in the doorway, coffee cup in hand, the suave voice belying the inherent threat. “Name’s Carlton. And you are…?”
Carlton couldn’t respond.